USAFE commander highlights US, NATO partnership

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  • By Staff Sgt. Mareshah Haynes
  • Defense Media Activity
The commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe shared his views on the evolution of the partnership between U.S. and European Airmen during the Air Force Association's 2011 Air & Space Convention and Exposition here Sept. 20.

Since World War I and the days of the Lafayette Escadrille, and even before, Airmen have trained and fought alongside service members from other countries and that practice remains today.

"Every year in USAFE, we conduct about 1,765 military-to-military engagement activities with air forces of Europe and Africa," said Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, who is also the commander of the NATO Air Component Command and director of the Joint Air Power Competence Centre. "It has become the principle stay at home mission of Air Forces in Europe when we're not helping to fight and win the war in Afghanistan and Iraq."

Welsh explained how the U.S.-European partnership translates to expanded capabilities on the battlefield. Out of 48 coalition partner nations fighting in Afghanistan, 37 of them are European.

"The last time I was in Afghanistan, I talked to an Estonian (joint terminal attack controller) who was supporting a Czech infantry battalion," he said. "The day before, they had been operating as perimeter security for a Bulgarian security force that was operating in support of a U.S. counter-terror task force. They called in Dutch F-16s and Polish gunships for close-air support during the mission. "

The general said the battlefield looks a lot different now in terms of the countries who are on the ground in the fight.

The partnership continues outside of the battle space and the nations pooled their resources to be more effective and efficient. One such venture is the Strategic Airlift Consortium. Twelve NATO partners purchased three C-17 Globemaster IIIs and activated the multinational C-17 Heavy Airlift Wing based in Papa, Hungary.

"The first time I went (to the HAW) I met a Bulgarian aircrew member and he talked to me about how proud he was to be in this wing," Welsh said. "He talked to me about the Bulgarian strategic airlift missions he flew with a mixed-nation crew to deliver humanitarian relief supplies to Haiti and Pakistan. He had tears in his eyes as he described how his country was contributing to humanitarian efforts worldwide. This is a capability many of these nations have never had before."

Welsh said these joint capabilities potentially could expand into other areas like tactical airlift, air refueling and remotely piloted aircraft.

"The way ahead may be a mystery, but there are things, in my mind, that are not," he said. "My Air Force will still be the best the world has ever seen because we will not let it be anything else."