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Air Force flexibility on display in Iraq and Afghanistan

by Louis A. Arana-Barradas
Air Force Print News

5/16/2006 - SAN ANTONIO (AFPN) -- Air Force fighters no longer just swoop down from the sky to drop their deadly weapons in support of ground troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fighters equipped with special sensor pods, developed for more precise bombing, also are warning commanders and troops fighting on the ground about enemy actions.

“By using the targeting pods on fighter aircraft to gather full-motion video, we are able to use airplanes -- that might otherwise be boring holes in the sky -- to provide the ground commander with imagery that protects ground troops and innocent civilians,” said Maj. Gen. Allen Peck, deputy Combined Forces Air Component commander for U.S. Central Command.

This capability -- known as nontraditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance -- is one capacity Airmen provide their sister services and coalition partners in the two theaters. It is just one example of how the Air Force continues to adapt so it can continue providing the precision airpower, on demand, needed to win the global war on terrorism.

The service’s roles and missions have changed since the start of operations in the two countries as Airmen took on nontraditional jobs and missions, General Peck said. However, the Air Force’s strategic objectives are still the same.

“Our role in both theaters is [still] to provide the full spectrum of air and space power to ground commanders,” the general said.

To do that, the Air Force has 20,000 Airmen deployed to both theaters, doing jobs in the air and on the ground. Thousands more around the world provide them the support they need to accomplish their missions. Together, they are making positive contributions in support of the global war on terrorism, the F-15 Eagle pilot said.

However, most people do not see that Airmen are more integrated with their sister services than ever before. They do not see that Airmen are also providing ever-increasing capabilities and are fighting -- and dying -- in the two countries. That has led the Air Force’s top general to say the Air Force suffers from a perception problem.

“One of the challenges we’ve got in this Air Force is we make this look so easy that people believe that it’s easy,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley told a group at an Air Force Defense Strategy and Transformation seminar in Washington earlier this year.

But General Moseley said there is nothing easy about the job Airmen are doing. Providing air support to coalition ground troops takes a force still dedicated to their mission after being at war for almost 15 years.

On any given day, 52 percent of the Air Force is working for combatant commanders, General Moseley said.

General Peck, no stranger to operations in the region, sees the end result of that work. He was a key planner of the air war over Serbia and chief of combat plans at the combined air operations center in Italy during the air campaign. And he worked with the commander of Air Force forces at the Central Command during the major combat operations of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

He said what Airmen bring “to the joint table” allows them to capitalize on the speed, range and flexibility of air power. Those include command and control, strike, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, airlift and tanker support.

“Whether they are flying combat missions, dropping relief supplies, providing convoy security or defusing an improvised explosive device, America’s Airmen are making a difference every day,” General Peck said.

No matter the situation, Airmen adapt to their changing roles, he said.

In Iraq, Airmen do non-traditional missions such as convoy security and detainee operations. And “we have a tremendous airlift ‘train’ running through the sky with the goal of reducing the amount of cargo that moves by road,” he said.

At Balad Air Base, Iraq, Air Force medics “perform miracles every day,” the general said. “If wounded warriors arrive at Balad alive, they have a 96 percent chance of leaving alive.” 

Nearly every day, Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft evacuate injured troops to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, for transfer to nearby Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

In Afghanistan, General Peck said, Airmen provide the same capabilities to ground forces. And they serve on provincial reconstruction teams, interacting with local leaders and elders to provide a stable and secure environment. Airmen also have flown humanitarian relief missions to support the coalition’s civil affairs efforts.

“The past three-plus years have demonstrated the flexibility of air power,” he said.

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