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USAFE reaching out to establish security ties

by Louis A. Arana-Barradas
Air Force News Agency

3/30/2006 - RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AFPN) -- Airmen and their counterparts from other countries meeting to discuss ways to fix runways may not impact the war on terror like an airstrike against al Qaeda forces.

But these face-to-face meetings could one day lead to a security accord that could help combat terrorism, said Mike McMullan, chief of U.S. Air Forces in Europe’s theater security cooperation branch.

U.S. European Command manages the overall outreach program, he said. Most of the program revolves around exchanges between Airmen from the United States and a host of countries. The other branches of the U.S. military also participate in the program.

“We work with countries to enhance our security interests,” Mr. McMullan said. “Our goal is combating terrorism -- to deter aggression.”

The branch helps manage USAFE’s Theater Security Cooperation Program, which reaches out to 91 countries in Europe, Africa and Eurasia. Last year, there were about 500 exchanges. Airmen visit other countries and host visits at command bases.

The command, headquartered at this busy airlift base, is going through a transition. The plan is for it to transform into more of a management and administrative headquarters. A smaller warfighting headquarters will carry out wartime operations.

“We’re following our transformation guidance,” he said. “And all exchanges are beneficial.”

In any case, the command’s Security Cooperation Program is essential, Mr. McMullan said.

For example, a group of Polish airmen is visiting Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, today to learn about how the Air Force maintains and repairs airfield pavements including runways, taxiways, parking ramps and aprons. In February, Ramstein hosted members of the Botswana Defense Force, who learned about Air Force warehouse management. In coming months Airmen will travel to several other countries for similar meetings.

Mr. McMullan said there are several goals the command is trying to achieve during each visit.

“For example, if you look at Africa, there’s a lot of instability there,” he said. “We go there to build and help stabilize the region. That’s a long-term goal -- the global war on terrorism is our top goal.”

Other goals include gaining access to countries -- which helps U.S. military aircraft get clearance to fly over their air space -- and development of interoperability, which would facilitate countries using the same language, equipment, procedures and tactics.

“We also try to have influence with countries in our area of responsibility,” Mr. McMullan said. “Because if we’re not there working with them, then somebody else will be. So this helps us just like a peace dividend.”

Another program goal is following command direction, which stems from national interests, he said. The secretary of defense and EUCOM and USAFE commanders provide the direction.

A recent directive calls for stepping up relations with Poland, which bought F-16 Fighting Falcon jets, Mr. McMullan said. The new NATO member receives frequent visits from Airmen.

“And we are, of course, building a relationship with them, too,” Mr. McMullan said.

The security cooperation program is really an umbrella for several different outreach programs. In all of them, Airmen and Air Force civilians interact year round with counterparts in other nations. Some exchanges last only a few days, while some last longer, depending on the purpose. Each program has a specific function, but all have a similar end.

“We want to familiarize these countries with the way we do business. Our procedures. Our tactics,” he said. “I like to use the words ‘show and tell’ for what we do. We take what we have and show and we tell them our story -- the way we in the Air Force do things.”

The strategy pays off, said Alfonso Fraga, the command’s pavement engineer. He has done these kinds of exchanges for 12 years, in countries like Latvia, Romania and Albania. He said there is a language barrier when Airmen travel to most countries. But with the help of interpreters, they still benefit from the exchanges, which some countries refer to as training.

“But it is really an exchange of ideas because we also ask them how they do business in their country,” Mr. Fraga said. “When we went to Latvia and Romania, we took equipment and showed them how we test airfield pavements.”

Testing airfields allows Air Force engineers to assess the condition of the pavements at airfields throughout the region. This allows “us to see if they’re suitable for our aircraft to use,” he said.

“That way, we’ll be ahead of the game if we have to land in these countries,” Mr. Fraga said.

The U.S. military gets its foot in the door to establish relationships in several ways. One way is through senior officer visits. General officers -- usually commanders of wings or major and unified commands -- visit their counterparts in other countries.

“This sets the tone for what we’re able to do afterward,” Mr. McMullan said. Senior officer visits help determine the kind of events in which Airmen will take part that will help the program meet its goals. “It paves the road for what do in the future.”

Another way to establish ties is with the Joint Contact Team Program, which is a military-to-military program. These meeting are usually between small teams of three to five people. Participants are usually senior NCOs and mid-level and field-grade officers.

In these exchanges, the topics may cover how each country handles administrative, logistics, supply, command and control and other military issues. Again, this involves a show-and-tell approach to learning.

“We’re not training and we’re not teaching, we’re sharing -- familiarizing,” Mr. McMullan said. “We give them a kind of a flavor of how the Air Force does things in Europe.”

Exercises are also a good way to establish long-term contacts. They can take place at command or NATO bases or in other countries. The exercises may include flying, which trains aircrews to work and fly together. Or they may be medical exercises to share military medical procedures.

“We go to Africa and do preventive medicine, or promote AIDS awareness. Our medical folks go in and try to show them how we implement our medical procedures,” he said. “The benefits are huge for everyone.”

These exercises are great ways to practice interoperability, he said. They also provide valuable experience and are great for building friendly relationships.

“Other countries look up to us because there is no better Air Force in the world as far as the way we do things -- the way we fly, the way we operate, the equipment we have and our aircraft,” he said. “We have the best Air Force in the world and the world knows it.”

These contacts also help build coalition partners that may be looking to take a more active role in the global war on terrorism, he said.

Mr. McMullan said the security cooperation program is a top priority for the command. Through mutual exchanges, he said, “we are trying to build security cooperation efforts with benefits.”

And in the long run, the command helps deter the aggression of global terrorism and enhance stability in its vast theater of operation.

“So it is a priority to reach out,” Mr. McMullan said. “Because if we don’t reach out and have some influence, then other countries may come in and have an undesirable influence.”

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