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Pacific Air Forces commander focuses on future

by Master Sgt. Ben Gonzales
Defense Media Activity-San Antonio

9/18/2009 - WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The commander of Pacific Air Forces spoke with national media members to outline his responsibilities during the 2009 Air Force Association Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition Sept. 16 at the National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md.

Gen. Gary North discussed his role as the Pacific Air Forces commander, and the Air Component commander to U.S. Pacific Command.

"I am grateful to return to Pacific Air Forces and for the opportunity to once again serve alongside many friends, partners and allies in this vast and important region" said the general, who has served in, or working Joint Staff staff issues for the Pacific region for more than 10 years of his 33-year Air Force career.

Prior to his current assignment, General North was the commander of 9th Air Force and U.S. Air Forces Central, and served as the U.S. Central Command combined forces air component commander and service functional air component commander for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He now leads approximately 45,000 military and civilian personnel serving in nine strategic locations and numerous smaller facilities, primarily in Hawaii, Alaska, Japan, Guam and South Korea.

He said he plans to quickly get out and see the Airmen throughout his command, as well as bring a message of continuing the long and enduring partnership the U.S. Air Force has had with the air forces in countries in the Pacific.

"In both a bilateral and multilateral relationship, we depend on each other," General North said. "What we will continue to do is strengthen relationships with senior military and political officials in all the countries we engage with and ensure we understand each other well. We always train and exercise together so that we are prepared for a wide range of military cooperation."

Working with Pacific nations is something the general knows well. General North has served on the Joint Staff as director of politico-military affairs for Asia-Pacific, where he was responsible for regional planning and policy for the Asia-Pacific, South Asia and Central Asia regions. He was the U.S. Pacific Command director for operations when the deadliest tsunami in the history of the world struck the Pacific region on Dec. 26, 2004, and aided the American relief effort following that catastrophe.

From partnering with nations to provide humanitarian relief to maintaining readiness for high-end combat operations, the Air Force and joint team play a critical role in ensuring the stability and economic prosperity in the region, he said.

PACAF Airmen provide the full power of America's Air Force and the skill of its Airmen in an area that extends from the West Coast of the United States to the east coast of Africa and from the Arctic to the Antarctic, covering more than 100 million square miles. The area is home to 50 percent of the world's population in 36 nations and more than one-third of the global economic output.

During the press conference, General North answered a myriad of questions including how PACAF officials will handle modernizing its fleet.

"Realignment of forces is a global issue for our Air Force," the general said. "As we bring down some 250 of our 'legacy' fighters to start to recapitalize our force with modern 5th generation fighters, our Air Force has and will make some deliberate decisions to ensure we've got the right capability around the globe. We can deploy anything very rapidly, but we've got to have the right mix of high technology as we prepare to move from our current steady state of F-15 (Eagles) and F-16 (Fighting Falcons) and have the exact number of F-22 (Raptors) as we prepare for the F-35 (Lightning II joint strike fighter) that comes online in 2013. Our Air Force must realign that force properly."

Aircraft have to be aligned properly to do the Air Force's business because one of the key issues in the Pacific is the tyranny of distance, General North said.

"A C-130 (Hercules) going from Japan to Australia is a lengthy event, so that is why we based C-17s (Globemaster IIIs) both in Alaska and in Hawaii that are not only doing regional missions, but also global missions," he said. "One of my tasks will be to look at our current footprint and work with Headquarters Air Force, Air Mobility Command and Air Combat Command to determine the best lay down to present to the commander of Pacific Command."

When it comes to possible threats in the region, General North takes a holistic approach to protecting America and its allies.

"We, in any domain or in any part of the world, look at the capabilities of others and ensure we understand those capabilities and look at the strategy of those who have increased capabilities," General North said. "One of my major concerns is ensuring freedom of movement, which means places that you can operate from for day-to-day operations that are survivable either from natural (threats), like typhoons, or in the event of conflict that you will be able to fight and survive. We must be prepared to ensure that we can do what we are tasked to do.

"Every nation has a sovereign right to protect itself," the general added. "However if (a nation) chooses to commit conflict, if the U.S. was brought into something because we were either asked or directed, we have capabilities that (other nations) cannot counter."

About 340 fighter and attack aircraft are assigned to the command including the Air Force's newest fighter aircraft, the F-22, stationed at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, and soon to be based at Hickam AFB, Hawaii. Its combination of stealth, supercruise, maneuverability, and integrated avionics, coupled with improved supportability, represents an exponential leap in warfighting capabilities. In addition, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, there is a continuous bomber presence that gives B-52 Stratofortress and B-2 Spirit aircrews unequalled training opportunities as well as a the ability to project airpower any time, any place and anywhere. The B-2, with its low-observable characteristics, gives Air Force officials the unique ability to penetrate an enemy's most sophisticated defenses and threaten its most valued, and heavily defended, targets.

Having superior airpower is crucial to keeping the peace throughout the region, especially in the Korean peninsula. The general has served two tours in South Korea and said he has watched the nation's military capability grow in his more than three decades of military service.

"I believe (South Korea) is very capable in presentation of tactical forces, operational command and control, and strategic thought and focus," General North said. "Our collective leadership is in discussions to determine the right sizing of American forces on the peninsula. We need to look at how we can provide stability that allows for a nonnuclear peninsula, which is very important to all of us.

"Now, more than ever, our nation relies on us to answer the call, wherever, whenever, and to do whatever is required, for however long it takes," the general said. "Together, with our joint and international partners, we'll build upon relationships that underpin security and ensure military readiness along the full spectrum of operations."

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