The mission of the U.S. Air Force is to defend the United States through control and exploitation of air and space.
Rote memorization of the above phrase during my days in Air Force ROTC has been of limited usefulness in my current, mostly-civilian life. It does make me wonder, however, if the Air Force's mission is consistent with administrations' use of the Air Force over the last few decades -- nay, the Air Force's whole life.
Ever since the Air Force was officially founded in 1947, there has not been an attack on United States soil by a foreign entity that has resulted in American forces needing to repulse an occupying army. Granted, the atrocity committed in September of this year was certainly an attack on the United States -- there's no doubt about that. But prior to that, all the fighting done by the Air Force does not seem consistent with "defending the United States," unless "defending the interests of the United States" qualifies. Even now, it's questionable whether the administration's use of the Air Force (and its sibling branches) in Afghanistan in "defense" of the United States is appropriate; the attack on American soil happened, and a response is warranted, but are we going in the right direction? I can't say. History will tell, I'm sure.
I don't intend to question the bravery, integrity, or patriotism of Americans who serve in the Air Force or any other service. On the contrary, I admire their courage and willingness to serve their country. I do, however, question the motives of the civilian commanders -- the presidents, secretaries of defense -- who have sent our military into actions that do not promote the services' mission statements, one of which is stated above.
If those civilian commanders wish to send America's fighting men and women into action, and American citizens continue to keep them in office, then fine -- the individual branches should change their mission statements to reflect the broader scope of activities civilian commanders order them to do. If the individual branches would keep their mission statements as they are, then their civilian commanders must limit their orders to the military to promote those statements. Either course of action would provide a consistency currently missing in civilian-military relations.