When Michael Wynne became secretary of the Air Force this month, he described the transition as crossing "back into the blue."
Most recently in the spotlight as the Pentagon's acquisitions chief and point man for the controversial 2005 round of military base closings, Wynne is better known to close friends as an "Air Force brat."
Following a path taken by his father and older brother, a pilot in the Vietnam War, Wynne joined the Air Force after graduating from West Point with the famed class of 1966, which suffered one of the highest casualty rates in the war.
"The day I reported for active duty, the report of my brother being shot down was announced," he said. "So the ties are very strong." His brother was listed as missing in action for 10 years and is now buried at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
Wynne served in the Air Force seven years, finishing as a captain with a stint as assistant professor of astronautics at the academy. Over the next three decades, he established a career as an aerospace industry executive, before joining the Bush administration in 2001. He was sworn in as Air Force secretary on Nov. 3 at the academy's Mitchell Hall, the cadet dining facility where he last met his brother for his graduation in 1963.
"This is a great rejoinder," Wynne said in his spacious new office on the Pentagon's E-ring, mostly bare but for large, dramatic paintings of aircraft on the walls. "I'm a member of the Air Force family."
Solid Air Force and industry credentials are likely to help Wynne as he navigates the service through anticipated budget cuts and recovery from a variety of scandals. "It's the usual getting the six pounds into a five-pound sack," he quipped of the need to scale back expensive new weapons and aircraft programs.
Greater financial transparency will be a "point of emphasis" of his tenure, he stressed, including an overhaul of the Air Force acquisition process -- tainted by a recent scandal involving a flawed $30 billion program to lease Boeing tanker jets. Among several Air Force and defense officials implicated in the scandal by the Pentagon's inspector general, Wynne was cited for expressing concern over the cost of the deal but failing to require the Air Force to follow acquisition guidance.
Wynne must also handle the fallout from accusations of religious intolerance and sexual harassment at the Air Force Academy, while overseeing a cutback of thousands of Air Force personnel, partly as a result of unexpectedly high reenlistments. The trim includes 4,000 junior officers.
Meanwhile, the Air Force is airlifting troops and gear for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as flying humanitarian aid to victims of disasters around the globe -- from Gulf Coast hurricanes to the earthquake in Pakistan.
The U.S. Air Force "is the air force of last resort for everyone," Wynne said.
-- Ann Scott Tyson