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2006 a year of transformation for Airmen

Year in Review (U.S. Air Force graphic/James Borland)

Year in Review (U.S. Air Force graphic/James Borland)

SAN ANTONIO (AFPN) -- In a year when Air Force operations around the globe helped positively impact countless lives affected by violence, intimidation and natural disaster, 2006 also served as a platform for evaluating how such missions can be accomplished more proficiently by capitalizing on training and technology.

Helping map Air Force operations in 2006 and into the future was the aim by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley, who established the service's top three priorities -- the war on terrorism, taking care of Airmen and their families, and recapitalizing and modernizing air and spacecraft.

Operations conducted in support of the global war on terror remained at the forefront of Air Force priorities throughout 2006. From Iraq and Afghanistan to the Horn of Africa and the Pacific, Airmen were directly in the fight, whether carrying out missions on the front lines or piloting planes from operation centers a half a world away.

Airmen in 2006 continued to strive in effectively executing mission needs with the greatest accuracy seen to date. The evolving enemy tactics used during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan demanded weapons that minimize collateral damage.

In October, the Guided Bomb Unit-39/B small diameter bomb was flown into combat for the first time by the 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron and its F-15E Strike Eagles while providing close-air support for ground forces operating in Iraq.

The success of missions flown by the MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle in support of coalition forces have made it one of the most sought after weapons by combatant commanders. Increasingly, deployed Airmen are developing a better understanding of joint operations while serving alongside their sister services in numbers far greater than ever before.

For many Airmen, their roles in Iraq and Afghanistan extend far beyond targeting and eliminating enemy forces. Several hundred Airmen began attending Army ground combat skills training in July at one of 14 Army training locations this year, preparing them for operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom deployments. These Airmen were assigned to duties outside their normal Air Force specialties, commonly referred to as "in-lieu-of," or ILO, taskings intended to temporarily augment Army mission requirements.

This departure from traditional Air Force roles developed a cadre of combat-ready Airmen possessing skills sets that continue to make a difference in the lives of those pursuing democracy. Among those roles is the Air Force's increasing involvement in provincial reconstruction teams helping rebuild Afghanistan. The Air Force-led PRT at Bagram Air Base was vital in engineering a new road system that will not only serve to connect several provincial districts, but create an infrastructure for establishing commerce that will allow the districts to be more self-sufficient. Airmen on both Air Force and Army PRT teams also were heavily involved in helping build schools, wells, and hydro-electric projects.

Airmen also came to the aid of thousands around the world in 2006 during humanitarian operations. In July, the world watched as thousands fled Lebanon following shelling between the country's Hezbollah paramilitary forces and the Israeli military. Airmen from the aerial transport, special forces, medical and personnel communities, to name a few, came together on short notice to safely transport American citizens from the volatile region.

In August, Air Force C-17 Globemaster IIIs evacuated all 188 island residents of Wake Island just days ahead of the arrival of Super Typhoon Ioke to the U.S. territory, where 155-mph winds and gusts up to 190 mph damaged many of the buildings. They evacuated Airmen, Department of Defense employees and Defense contractors. December saw Airmen assigned to the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa come to the aid of Kenya following weeks of rain that destroyed crops and made many roads in the Dadaab region impassable. Airmen from the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing flew C-130 Hercules relief missions as part of Operation Unity Knight, delivering 240,000 pounds of supplies over five days.

Completing these missions became more of a challenge in 2006 as Air Force leaders were tasked with shaping a leaner force. By transforming the service, Air Force leaders hope to create a force more agile, more compact and more lethal than ever -- ensuring global air, space and cyberspace dominance for the United States in the 21st century. To do this, plans and programs were put in place to better balance career fields and reduce the number of specialties while improving integration with the total force at the same time.

An emphasis in warfighting skills was the foundation for restructuring Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. A structure that resembles the air expeditionary force concept is now in place and continued changes will eventually lead to BMT lasting eight and a half weeks by 2008. That warrior ethos also received greater emphasis in Air Force professional military education.

As part of this transformation, Air Force leaders in 2006 began reducing the force by 40,000, which will continue over the next four years in order to comply with allocated budgets and increase investment in the future. The 12-percent drawdown is intended to align more of the total force with the air and space expeditionary force posture.

Air Force leaders said successfully transforming the service into a leaner force capable of fighting and winning the war on terror can be accomplished only in combination with efforts to recapitalize and modernize equipment. They said force reductions allow greater investment in modernizing existing aircraft and spacecraft to ensure dominance across warfighting domains. Cyberspace was added as an operational domain along with air and space as an amendment to the Air Force mission at the end of 2005. This paved the way in November for the announcement of 8th Air Force to become the new Air Force Cyberspace Command.

The aging fleet of aircraft continued to be a top concern for Air Force leaders in 2006 as the cost for maintaining aging airframes increased.

As the year comes to a close, the chief of staff identified the Air Force's No. 1 procurement priority as the KC-X tanker to replace the KC-135, which recently celebrated its 50th year of service with the Air Force. The first operational CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft was delivered to Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M, in March. The CV-22 provides the Air Force Special Operations Command a new capability to perform the missions of both airplane and helicopter, which no other military aircraft in the world can do. Further, air dominance was established by the Air Force's newest fighter aircraft, the F-22A Raptor, during Exercise Northern Edge 2006 in Alaska in June as it successfully performed both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. In September, the Air Force rolled out the F-35 Lightning II as its fifth-generation, supersonic stealth fighter designed to replace the aging F-16.

Freeing resources for recapitalization and modernization was achieved in 2006 under the construct of Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century. The AFSO 21 program challenged Airmen across all specialties and functions to look closer at their day-to-day practices and processes in an attempt to eliminate unnecessary or non-value added work in order to cut operating costs.

Several units made great strides using the AFSO 21 concept. At Hanscom AFB, Mass., an effort to identify and turn in unused telephone lines across the base has the potential for saving $200,000 annually. AFSO 21 also led to the acquisition process for the AIM-120D at Eglin AFB, Fla., to be cut by more than half, from 48 weeks to 20, getting the weapon to the warfighter quicker in support of combatant commanders.

Airmen accomplished a lot of great things in 2006, not only at their home stations but in the war on terrorism. Informing the public of such achievements was the focus earlier this month as the service's top leaders attended a strategic communication summit in Washington. Led by the Air Force secretary and chief of staff, they urged Airmen at all levels to tell their stories.

Air Force leaders had an opportunity to inform the nation of its contributions and sacrifices with the dedication of the Air Force Memorial at Arlington, Va., in October. The memorial, composed of three bold and graceful spires soaring skyward to a height of 270 feet, honors the millions of men and women who have served in the Air Force and its predecessor organizations, including the U.S. Signal Corps, the Army Air Corps and the Army Air Forces. But the story does not stop there as the Air Force prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2007.

In an August Letter to Airmen, Secretary Wynne stressed that every Airman is a communicator. Along with this responsibility, he said Airmen must understand how the Air Force contributes to the nation's defense in order to educate family, friends and others in the public. As a process of helping Airmen better understand their role in the strategic process, Air Force leaders initiated this month a roll call program in which supervisors and leaders can pass on information to their people and answer questions.

More importantly, the roll call program allows all Airmen to be better prepared and more informed for 2007.

2006 A Year In Photos: Photo Essay

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