In her first formal interview since becoming Air Force secretary, Barbara Barrett told Air Force Television about her youth, her life’s journey, and how those experiences make the Air Force a good match.
“Aviation is a big part of my life and space is too. For me the Air Force is a very comfortable home and a place that feels like the right fit,” she says.
Barrett is a lawyer, a rancher, and instrument-rated pilot with a long history of corporate and federal service, including serving as ambassador to Finland and in senior positions with the Federal Aviation Administration and Civil Aeronautics Board. Before she was 30, she was an executive with two global Fortune 500 companies.
Informed by those experiences, she says serving as the Secretary of the Air Force is “an extraordinary privilege” but clearly places her emphasis on “the depth of the responsibility that this job carries.”
At the same time, she understands a larger truth.
“I also know that every Airman, when they raise their hand to defend the country and the Constitution are making a bigger commitment than I am,” she says. “My job will be to give them the tools, give them the resources, give them the support, and get out of the way.”
She primarily wants to continue to accelerate in the direction set by her predecessors. She noted her commitment to modernizing the Air Force, ensuring readiness, and streamlining operations by reducing Air Force Instructions with unnecessary rules and regulations. That effort, she says, will ensure “we can make faster and smarter decisions.”
She also said standing up a Space Force, if approved by Congress, will be a key focus area. “We have to be first and best in space for the world’s safety and especially the defense of America.”
“A United States Space Force is not just a good idea; I might even say it’s overdue,” she said in the interview. “It’s really time for us to be attentive to our dependence on space, the urgency of space, the importance of space and the need for us to continue our lead in the warfighting domain.”
Connected to all of that is ensuring that the Air Force meets its mandates as articulated in the National Defense Strategy. That document, which is the blueprint for defending the country and its interests “is the best I’ve seen,” she says.
“It recognizes there are threats America has to be ready for,” Barrett says. “The United States Air Force is going to be the frontline of defense. The United States Air Force has to be ready to face those threats.”
Barrett says she is excited to work alongside the “superstars” who populate the Air Force’s ranks. Guiding her are the lessons she learned growing up on a farm in Pennsylvania where hard work and determination were daily necessities. So was education.
Ethics and integrity are paramount, she says, as well as ensuring equal opportunity and rewards for merit and performance. That emphasis, she says, is a byproduct of her own path being a woman in positions and places often dominated by men.
“In America we look for talent not packaging,” she said. “What matters to us is, what does somebody do? How do they perform? What do they get done? … Those who move things forward, those who work with integrity and honesty … we don’t worry so much about the gender a person is. We care about what the performance is.”
“From my perspective, America is a place where we look to people according to abilities and performance. The Air Force is very much that way.”