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AEF still an evolving concept

by Staff Sgt. Melanie Streeter
Air Force Print News

9/16/2004 - WASHINGTON  -- While the air and space expeditionary force construct is not new, it is not finished growing yet either, according to the Air Force deputy chief of staff for air and space operations.

"(It is likely) we're not going to fight a war (in the United States)," said Lt. Gen. Ronald E. Keys on Sept. 14 at the Air Force Association's 2004 Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition here. "We need to have some concept of getting there and getting back -- pick up, pack up, get there, operate, pack up and go home to get ready to do it again."

That is what the AEF does, General Keys said.

Before the AEF construct came along, deployments were done in a sort of "bidding" system, with people raising their hands to fill slots in operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch, the general said. Eventually, though, that system stopped working.

"We needed predictability, not just personal predictability, though that's important if you want to have any sort of family life, but also very important professional predictability," General Keys said.

That concept of predictability worked well until Sept. 11, 2001, when everything changed, he said. A surge in requirements during operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom resulted in the Air Force using Airmen from almost every AEF pair to fulfill requirements. Adjustments were made to the AEF system, and the general said he thinks the Air Force is back on track, but there is still more to be done.

"The really tough part of this is the changing battle rhythm of the Air Force," he said. "We need something light, lean and lethal, and we have to understand what's available out there."

This means not only adjusting the AEF, but also adjusting training and other programs to better support an expeditionary force, the general said. One area that is already evolving is professional military education.

"We need ways to (enroll people in PME) when they come off AEF, so they can be started right away and don't have to wait," General Keys said. "With Air Command and Staff College, we divided it into three phases that don't have to be done in order."

This allows students to start with the next available class and fit in valuable training during precious down time, he said.

Another change could come in the way Airmen hold Air Force specialty codes, the general said.

"I have some really smart people who at times could be available to fill skills downrange, but the skills they're trained in don't apply," General Keys said.

In career fields where there is not much call for deployment, Airmen could hold a primary and an expeditionary specialty code, he said.

The Air Force is also looking at how to better interface with sister services in a joint environment, General Keys said.

"Eventually there will be a joint expeditionary force, and we will eventually train together that way," he said.

Until then, the Air Force will continue to work on becoming a plug-and-play component, prepared to go in and fight America's wars when called upon, General Keys said.

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