2015 held many firsts for USAFE-AFAFRICA

by Liz Jacobson U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa Public Affairs

U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa had a busy year.

It started in 2014 with issues like the Ebola outbreak, the Russian invasion of Crimea, and the beginning of anti-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant operations. The tempo hasn’t slowed down since.

“At the beginning of 2014, our biggest concern was the drawdown in Afghanistan and force management,” said Gen. Frank Gorenc, USAFE-AFAFRICA commander. “At that time, we never would have guessed we would be facing the challenges of 2015.”

The invasion of Crimea prompted U.S. European Command to begin Operation Atlantic Resolve, which USAFE diligently supported throughout 2015 with over 30 deployments.

One of those was the first-ever theater security package deployment to Europe, made up of 12 A-10C Thunderbolt IIs, that arrived in February. Since then, 12 F-15C Eagles and 12 more A-10s deployed to Europe as TSPs. In 2015, the TSPs supported 26 European nations across 40 events and over 50 micro deployments. In total, they flew 3,212 sorties adding up to 5,297 flight hours.

“We used that theater security package to fulfill training requirements with as many of our allies as possible, particularly in light of OAR and the assurance that we were trying to do,” Gorenc said.

Keeping with the 2015 year of firsts, USAFE supported the first-ever deployment of the F-22 Raptor to Europe. The Raptors visited U.S. and NATO installations in Germany, Poland and Estonia, demonstrating the U.S. capability to forward deploy a 5th generation fighter, and our allies’ ability to support the bed down of this platform.

“For me, it was very important to introduce the F-22 to see how we could fly it in the airspace and how we could support it,” Gorenc said. “Depending on their availability, we may or may not be lucky enough to get F-22s (next year), but, certainly, I’m working really hard to make next year a copy of this year with respect to the F-22s.”

Gorenc explained that rotations like the TSP and F-22 are great additions to the command, but they can take time to plan and deploy. A rapid deployment was crucial for the Air Force when Turkey agreed to open up Incirlik Air Base for use to launch airstrikes against ISIL.

“Incirlik’s available, and boom, we have aircraft going there,” Gorenc said. “The fact that we could do that, the only way you could do that, is with forward-based forces. You could certainly do it with rotational forces from the States, but it would take much longer.”

In 2015, USAFE deployed six F-16 Fighting Falcons and KC-135 Stratotankers to Incirlik as well as authorized arming MQ-1 Predators to support anti-ISIL operations in Syria and Iraq. USAFE also supported the staging of personnel recovery forces at Diyarbakir Air Base, Turkey.

In November, the command was once again called upon to provide airpower in the form of F-15E Strike Eagles from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, to support anti-ISIL operations.

“We have a Ph.D.-level expeditionary Air Force that is able to literally tap into any capability we need worldwide and bring it,” Gorenc said.

While having the latest-and-greatest technology is nice, every commander agrees that the greatest asset in the Air Force is the Airmen. Airmen from USAFE-AFAFRICA once again proved their exceptional bravery in 2015.

At the beginning of the year the command saw an incredible act of bravery from an Airman from RAF Lakenheath.

Staff Sgt. Greggory Swarz was awarded the French Legion of Honor and the Airman’s Medal for saving the lives of three French airmen after a Hellenic air force F-16 Fighting Falcon crashed into the parking ramp at Los Llanos Air Base, Spain, during the Tactical Leadership Program.

In August, Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone and his friends took down a gunman on a train heading to Paris, saving more than 300 lives. For their actions, they were awarded the French Legion of Honor by President Francois Hollande. Stone was awarded the Airman’s Medal and the Purple Heart for bravery by the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, and the Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James.

This year of firsts was a busy one for the command, and 2016 is shaping up to be just as busy.

“When people ask me what I expect to happen in the future,” Gorenc said, “I say the same thing: I can’t predict what the future will bring, but I can assure you that airpower will be a part of the solution, and USAFE-AFAFRICA will be ready to support when called upon.”