Education Critical to Air Force and Nation, Tinker Commander Tells Legislators

OKLAHOMA CITY (30 March 2017) – Education is critical to the United States Air Force and to our country, the commander of the Air Force Sustainment Center at Tinker Air Force Base emphasized to state Representatives on Thursday.

“As we move from an Iron Age Air Force to an Information Age Air Force, engineers and STEM graduates are critical to the underpinning of what we do at Tinker Air Force Base,” said Lt. Gen. Lee K. Levy II.

AFSC is the supporting command for the readiness of logistics and sustainment activities around the world. The center comprises three Air Logistics Complexes, three Air Base Wings, two Supply Chain Wings, and 23 geographically separated operating locations in the continental United States and overseas. The AFSC has $16 billion in execution authority and $26 billion in assets providing logistics operations, supply chain management, supply chain operations, depot-level maintenance and modifications, as well as sustainment for the nuclear enterprise, joint and interagency operations and foreign military sales partners.

STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is vital not only to America’s national security “but to our national competitiveness,” Levy said. “There’s a symbiotic relationship between the educational system of Oklahoma, its STEM output, and what we can accomplish” at Tinker.

The general said he could hire every engineering graduate Oklahoma produces each year and he’d “still have empty chairs” at the base.

The policies and incentives approved by the Legislature “directly shape the output of the STEM system of Oklahoma, and it takes 21 years to grow an engineer,” Levy said.

Education Funding Reduced Across-the-Board

Whether the Republican-controlled Legislature took Levy’s words to heart remains to be seen. To illustrate, House records show:

  • The Fiscal Year 2017 legislative appropriation for state colleges and universities was almost $244 million lower (23% less) than the appropriation from nine years ago; in fact, the Legislature sheared 15.9% off Higher Ed’s appropriation last year.
  • The appropriation to public schools for the current fiscal year was $53 million lower than the funding appropriated nine years ago – yet enrollment has grown by 48,000 students during that same period. The State Department of Education budget has been reduced in four of the last nine years.
  • The appropriation for Career and Technology Education for FY 2017 was $36.5 million lower (23.6% less) than the appropriation nine years ago.
  • Appropriations to the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology have been slashed by 37% over the last nine years – nearly one-third of that occurred just last year.
  • State funding for the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics is $1.16 million (15.3%) less this year than it was nine years ago.

Most Tinker Hires Are Oklahomans

Approximately 30,000 people work at Tinker, Levy related. Roughly 25,000 of them are civilians and about 6,000 are military personnel. “We hire predominantly from inside the state,” he added. “We want the best that Oklahoma has to produce.”

At Tinker AFB, the general said, “We repair, sustain and support weapons systems” including B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers, the E-3 Sentry AWACS (airborne early warning and control system), and KC-135 aerial refueling tankers. Tinker also is home to the 507th Air Refueling Wing, the 552nd AWACS Air Control Wing and to the Navy’s Strategic Communications Wing 1. “We like to call them our ‘red-dirt sailors’,” Levy quipped.

Air Force Fleet Has Aged

The last time a U.S. service member was “attacked from the air by an enemy combatant” was 1953, during the Korean War, Levy said. That “air dominance, air supremacy, is not a national birthright,” he asserted. “It is an obligation that we must claw, scratch and fight to maintain.”

Achieving and sustaining that dominance and supremacy has not been easy, Levy indicated. “We celebrated the 60th anniversary last year of the KC-135” Stratotanker, he recalled. “Any of you drive a 60-year-old car to work?” Similarly, the Air Force still employs B-52s that were manufactured in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Aircraft such as those are “what we rely on to project global reach, global vigilance and global power,” Levy said. The average fleet age of aircraft in the Air Force is 27 years, he said.

“I can take care of 60-year-old airplanes,” aircraft that were built “before I was born,” said Levy, a 1985 graduate of Louisiana State University. “But at the end of the day, old airplanes are old airplanes.”

The general said he testified Wednesday before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, “articulating the need for the United States Air Force to modernize across all of its portfolio.” Modernization “keeps us capable, credible and ready.”

Tinker Celebrating Its 75th Anniversary

Tinker AFB was officially activated 75 years ago, on March 1, 1942, as the Oklahoma City Air Depot. Subsequently it was named Tinker Field in memory of Army Maj. Gen. Clarence L. Tinker, a Native American from Osage County whose airplane went down during the Battle of Midway in 1942.

Today Tinker is credited with a $3.7 billion impact on the state, Levy said shortly after receiving House Resolution 1008 congratulating the installation on its diamond anniversary. “It’s a huge economic engine,” Levy said. The aerospace industry is second in economic impact only to the oil and gas industry, he said, and thanked state legislators for the aerospace tax credits they have enacted and renewed.



Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile