LOS ANGELES (AFNS) --
The commander of the Pacific Air Forces discussed the current state in the Pacific and the efforts of Airmen who contribute to securing U.S. and allied interests in the area during the Air Force Association’s 2013 Pacific Air & Space Symposium here Nov. 21.
As U.S. military forces are rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific theater, Gen. Hawk Carlisle said the work of Airmen remains key to strengthening partnerships and to mission success.
The general said Airmen provide a necessary, persistent forward presence in a theater that abounds in challenges, which include lingering historical conflicts, frequent natural disasters and an unparalleled area of responsibility.
"Every landmass on the planet could fit into the Pacific Ocean with enough room left over for another North America and another Africa," he said. “If you think about the size of the Pacific Ocean ... that’s the environment we deal with and the challenges we face every day."
Despite existing tensions with some nations in the region, Carlisle said that building relations is part of increasing cooperation and security for U.S. interests and partners.
“Virtual presence is actual absence,” he said. “You have to be there to have the relationship we have.”
Whether it’s humanitarian assistance or disaster response, such as during Operation Damayan, Carlisle said American Airmen are at the forefront, helping where aid is needed in order to support allies and partner nations.
This increased engagement is a vital part of the command’s missions, which Carlisle summarized with five lines of operation: theater security cooperation, integrated air and missile defense, power projection, agile and flexible command and control, and caring for the resilient Airmen.
“The five lines of operation are what we think we need to be able to do to meet the commander’s request in the Pacific,” he said. “Whatever (the U.S. Pacific Command commander) wants us and our nation expects us to do.”
In order to accomplish its security cooperation mission more effectively, the general outlined the way forward. Rather than pursuing an expansion of bases in the Pacific, the command will pursue expanded engagement. Enhancing and maintaining allied and friendly capabilities for self-defense, U.S. troops will keep a rotational presence throughout the Pacific -- keeping area deployments cost-effective while maintaining presence and improving relationships with partner nations during peacetime and contingency operations.
To illustrate the work of his command, and different aspects of the five lines of operation, Carlisle shared stories of command Airmen stationed around the Pacific. Whether during unprecedented joint-training exercises with their Japanese and Korean counterparts or saving a life during an attempted suicide, Carlisle said young and innovative Airmen are what make the mission possible.
“These are the men and women that are willing to raise their right hand and swear an oath to our nation,” he said. “Our Airmen are incredible ... it’s because of our resilient Airmen that we are the greatest fighting force in the world.”
Carlisle also cited the story of Senior Airman Samantha Holley, a C-17 Globemaster III loadmaster who personally cared for displaced storm victims in the Philippines during their evacuation flight to Manila. Playing music and handing out water, Holly succeeded in making her unfortunate passengers feel welcome and cared for, he said.
“It takes a special kind of person with a special character to do that for people in their time of need,” the general said admiringly. “It’s an impressive thing.”
In the foreseeable future, Carlisle said declining budgets place a burden of uncertainty on operations and Airmen -- the critical enablers of the mission.
“It is an incredible challenge with the fiscal constraints that we’re under,” he said. “Not knowing what you’re going to be able to do and how you’re going to be able to do it ...
“Our rebalance in the Pacific is working, but it’s an uphill battle,” he said. “But it’s going to continue working as long as we find a way to take care of those Airmen and give them the tools, the resources and the ability to do the job they need to do.”