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Eagle Flag's importance stressed

NAVAL AIR ENGINEERING STATION LAKEHURST, N.J. (AFPN) -- The Air Force’s top two leaders got a first-hand look Oct. 15 at the service’s newest flag-level exercise, Eagle Flag. They also talked about what they want every airman to know about the exercise.

Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James G. Roche and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper observed exercise operations, met with planners, and received a briefing from the Eagle Flag deployed commander.

According to Jumper, the timing is right for the new expeditionary combat-support exercise.

“The whole idea behind the expeditionary Air Force is to be able to plan and execute air and space power anywhere on the globe, and this is the capability that allows us to do it in the way we train,” he said. “We train our operators at Red Flag, and we have for years -- since 1975. Now that we are in a different world, it’s time to start training our mission-support elements that get us to where we need to go, that set up in distant places and keep (the Air Force) operating.”

While the timing for Eagle Flag may be right, not all airmen know about it.

Roche said that expeditionary combat-support airmen are the precursor to major operations, yet many airmen do not really know how much work has to be done before an operation begins.

“The practicing, the training and the demonstrating … of taking over a base, setting it up, patrolling aircraft and all that together, is something they may not recognize happens, but they should know that (Eagle Flag participants) are practicing to do it in various types of terrains and climates,” he said.

The first of more than 400 exercise participants arrived here Oct. 13. Among them were 30 key and essential leaders and members of an assessment team tasked with planning for the standup of the new base and determining requirements for setting it up. By the time the exercise ends Oct. 22, participants will have brought the bare base up to an initial operating capability where the leaders can generate aircraft missions.

Exercise planners have worked to ensure participants receive as realistic a deployment experience as possible, and in fact, have applied lessons learned from operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Jumper said there are several such lessons.

“We need to be able to set up quickly,” Jumper said. “It was inside of a month after 9-11 we were doing combat operations into an entirely land-locked nation. That meant we had to get ourselves ready to move quickly, we had to set up quickly, and we had to respond quickly. “

Jumper also said there are other requirements for fighter and unmanned vehicle operations, requirements the Eagle Flag participants are challenged to work through.

“When we send in these assessment teams, they’ve got to be able to rapidly take a look at all the things that could be done from that airfield, and be able to render a rapid opinion on what it’s going to take to set up … for that operation. And, we’ve got to be able to do it in all conditions,” Jumper said.

“Twenty airmen jumped … with the 173rd Brigade (into) Northern Iraq. They were airmen who were able to hit the ground and rapidly tell us what we need to do to turn that airfield into an operating airfield,” he said. “That’s the agile, robust capability we need to get ourselves going in the expeditionary Air Force.”

Roche said the Air Force spends a lot of time getting bombs on targets to gain the advantage, but there is a similar focus with the expeditionary combat-support concept.

“If we decide we need to operate someplace, to be able to have an orchestrated approach to allow those timelines (to be) brought down so the enemy simply doesn’t realize how quickly we can establish a forward-operating location and start to conduct operations, it becomes very much a comparable advantage against anybody,” he said.

“All the things we do in the Air Force have to do with studying and practicing to get unnecessary time out of things.” That, Roche said, is critical in combat operations.

According to Jumper, the expeditionary combat-support forces will help shape the air and space expeditionary environment of the future.

“The whole expeditionary combat-support idea is one that allows us to spread mission-support skills and capabilities around our Air Force and put them in the expeditionary Air Force,” he said.

In essence, no matter if an airman is assigned to a mission support group in U.S. Air Forces Europe or in the Pacific theater, they are trained to be a part of the expeditionary Air Force.

“In that way, we can go out and open (bases), as we did in (operations) Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. We can open 36 bases that can sustain our operations over a very large theater of operations,” Jumper said.

“This is a dramatic change from 10 to 15 years ago when (units) were garrisoned overseas to one that is increasingly expeditionary in each and every meaning of the word,” Roche said. “We go into a place like Afghanistan where everything had to be brought in by air and set up bases from nothing, control aircraft, have perfect defense, do weather and do all the combat support that’s required is increasingly our distinctive competence, and certainly no other air force in the world can do.

“It becomes critical to the nation’s ability to project power, because it isn’t just for air forces; it’s for combat air forces,” he said.

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