Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) pressed Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh during Wednesday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to publically support airmen’s rights to communicate with members of Congress. The exchange comes after Air Combat Command’s Vice Commander Maj. Gen. James Post told members of a Tactics Review Board at Nellis AFB, Nev., that speaking to Congress regarding the Air Force’s plan to divest the A-10 could be construed as “treason.” Ayotte wanted Welsh to promise the Air Force would not retaliate against airmen who reported the comments. “There is an investigation ongoing into that incident,” Welsh told Ayotte, noting he contacted Post and ACC boss Gen. Hawk Carlisle directly after he learned of the comments. The Secretary of the Air Force’s Inspector General is now running an investigation, and Welsh said he cannot elaborate on the incident “until the facts are reported to my Secretary.” Pressed by Ayotte to clarify his position on airmen’s responsibilities and rights, Welsh said he supports the ability for airmen to lawfully communicate with Congress and give their “honest opinion.” Ayotte said she also heard reports that USAF was conducting an investigation into whom reported Post’s comments, to which Welsh said he does not support any retaliatory investigation and if one is under way it is not under the auspices of his office or the office of Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. (Welsh prepared testimony)
The Air Force will begin its 71st annual Operation Christmas Drop on Dec. 4. The weeklong exercise is a yearly tradition that delivers supplies such as food, fishing equipment, school books, and clothes to remote islands in the Pacific. It is the longest-running Department of Defense humanitarian mission.