Published: Nov. 30, 2017
Greater Oklahoma City Chamber members were urged Wednesday by the ranking military leader in Oklahoma and by an executive with Northrop Grumman to grow the state's pool of high-tech graduates.
They got that message during a State of the Aerospace Industry event in Midwest City sponsored by the chamber.
Lt. Gen. Lee K. Levy II, commander of the Air Force Sustainment Center and its 43,000 member workforce, keynoted the event.
He told the 500-plus people attending that both the military and its supporting civilian contractors are searching continuously for qualified applicants to fill technical jobs that are becoming more numerous as battlefields continue to evolve.
"Today, we shoot bullets and bombs at our bad guys," Levy said. "Tomorrow, we will shoot ones and zeros, and I need your help.
"I need more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) trained men and women," Levy said.
Base officials said earlier this year that Tinker Air Force Base, which is part of the Sustainment Center, had about 1,500 scientists and engineers working there with plans to hire another 200 before the end of this year.
As part of his presentation, Levy discussed the accomplishments of the base and its Air Logistics Center, as well as those made by other military installations in the state, including Vance and Altus Air Force bases, Fort Sill and the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant.
All of those organizations and the civilian contractors supporting them play vital roles in helping support ongoing operations to keep the nation free, he said.
"There's lots of opportunity for us to bring work to Tinker, more quality jobs in technology to the state of Oklahoma," Levy said.
"We need to think about how we prepare and set the table for tomorrow as we transition from an iron-age Air Force to information-age Air Force."
Levy said both the military and the contractors that support it all are hiring from the same pool of technically trained people.
"I know I could hire every single software engineer produced by Oklahoma colleges and universities and still have empty chairs, and my guess is our aerospace industry partners would feel the same way.
"So the future for us is about software," he said. "It is about ones and zeros, and taking advantage of our adversaries' software weaknesses and protecting our own so we can preserve our way of life.
"And I need STEM graduates to do that."
Attendees at Wednesday's event also were addressed by Richard Sullivan, a vice president and B-2 program manager for Northrop Grumman Military Aircraft Systems.
Sullivan told them he was impressed with his company's growing workforce in Oklahoma, and by the hard work that area universities are doing to produce graduates with the right kinds of education to help his company, other contractors and the military meet their objectives.
Sullivan said he also sees a growing need for technologically advanced graduates in the future.
Levy, meanwhile, left attendees with a reminder about why the need is so important.
"If you are a young man or woman and you are in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Syria, or somewhere in the South China Sea, you don't know me or my organization, and I am just fine with that," he said.
"I don't want them to know who any of us in this room are.
"What I do want them to know is that when they look overhead, they know there will be an airplane above them ready to deliver kinetic effects, bombs on targets, aerial refueling, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and if, heaven forbid, they should get hurt, an airplane to medically evacuate them back to their families in the U.S. That's all I really care about.
"But what you should know is, the Air Force Sustainment Center and Tinker Air Force Base are critical parts of every one of those missions.
"In fact, our nation can't do it without the capabilities coming from Tinker Air Force Base. That's pretty impressive."