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SECAF: Mobility key to war effort

by Master Sgt. Karen Petitt
Air Mobility Command Public Affairs

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. - The Secretary of the Air Force praised Air Mobility Command for quietly building up resources in the Middle East prior to the opening days of the war in Iraq and for the continued "spectacular" air support during the campaign to remove the Iraqi regime from power.

"Under the direction of Gen. (John) Handy (U.S. Transportation Command and AMC commander), and with the volunteer work of our Guard and Reserve units, AMC was able to have the people and supplies in place so the president could act when he wanted to, without going through a mobilization effort," said Dr. James G. Roche during a visit here with AMC active duty, Guard and Reserve commanders.

He said the work from airlift and refueling aircraft, as well as contributions from the aeromedical evacuation community, have been nothing short of history-making, and that people should be proud of their efforts.

"I think (you've) done some historic things, such that those who study conflict 50 years from now will probably have part of a chapter about this dramatic ability to allow American and coalition forces to fight from a great distance, typically far from water, quite successfully," he said. "We've been able to do this because we've had this mobility organization in place and have been refining our processes and technologies since the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. We've been doing a lot of work in the skies over the United States and at the same time supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, which had us fighting in a land-locked country. That means everything that went in and came out had to do so by air ... and people forget that we are still servicing an awful lot of flights into Afghanistan."

Some of those historic mobility actions include the ability not only for the Air Force to drop bombs within the opening hours of an attack, but also to airlift in humanitarian goods at the same time. For the first time AMC was part of the strike package in OEF, and that's happening again in Iraq ... until the area is cleared for shipping and ground transport.

So far during Operation Iraqi Freedom, a majority of the 28,500 sorties have been mobility related; 5,300 airlift sorties and 5,800 refueling sorties, which has shown the need to keep investing in the tanker fleet, he said. "The good news about the future of our tanker fleet is that everyone recognizes how important it is ... there's no debate that we need to re-capitalize on that," said Secretary Roche.

Regardless of how the Air Force decides to upgrade the tanker fleet, it's clear that the ability to have tankers refuel not just Air Force assets, but Navy and Army assets as well, shows that America's global reach capability is due to the mobility team.

"It's a true team effort, as it should be," he said. "Also, the mobility team has been able to see its resources in theater from right here at Scott AFB, and that has allowed you to do the things you do. It's also the hard work of the aircrews and support personnel who may think they're just doing their job, but I want to recognize them as doing it in a spectacular manner."

He said it isn't just the deployed members doing a great job, but family members and civilians who provide support from the home front as well.

"I want to say thanks to our families because they bear a very special burden. It takes planning to keep a family working properly, and sometimes life in the mobility world is unpredictable. My Navy experience was predictable for our family members in that a battle group deploys for a certain amount of time and then we would all return home together. In the Air Force it's not like that. We may all deploy at once, but we come home in different stages, and we don't always know the duration of the separation. So, I give credit for families who manage this type of stress and to the leadership for recognizing it and working with families in these circumstances."

Part of the leadership's response to help families plan for deployments is the Air and Space Expeditionary Force concept, which puts people in three-month rotation groups. Since Sept. 11 that construct has been tested severely, and Secretary Roche said he still thinks it's workable, but Air Force leaders are going to have to make some tough decisions.

He said before OEF there were about 7,500 people in the current theater of operations, which quickly went to about 26,000 at the height of the Afghanistan operations.

Air Force leaders were recently working with commanders to reduce the number of people deployed so they could keep the rotations viable, but the numbers never got below 16,500 in theater. Now, during OIF, the numbers are up to 46,000. So, the biggest challenge with the AEF construct will be to get the numbers back down to a workable rotation schedule once again.

"We'll be looking at how we can go back to a rotation basis so families can plan. We're also looking at this because we're going to need to reconstitute the individual, continue their specialized training, and allow them to take leave ... all the while maintaining our overseas presence at acceptable levels.

I can assure you that this is certainly understood that it's something we're going to have to work." (Staff Sgt. Kathy Ferrero, 375th Airlift Wing Public Affairs, contributed to the story)




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