U.S. Air Force Col. Brian Hardeman, the 65th Air Base Group commander, recently discussed his goals moving forward, as well as the appreciation he has for the Airmen who continue to propel Lajes Field forward as a strategic force enabling power projection.
Q. What would you like your Airmen to know about you and your overall vision as the recently appointed commander of the 65th ABG?
A. First, I want the members of the 65th Air Base Group to know that everyone has a voice and is critical to the mission. It does not matter whether you are military, civilian or local national, everyone is a valued and equal member of the team. Team 6-5 is charged to execute the mission, which is to enable power projection, assist transient and divert aircraft and support the Portuguese Air Force search and rescue mission.
To execute the mission, we must remember the world and its threats are changing and we must change to stay ahead of those who wish to challenge us. What worked in the past may not in its entirety work for us today as our threats continue to evolve. Today’s military, with the help of our host nation partners, are here to innovate and accelerate toward a future where our countries and our partners can thrive under the security and strategic advantages airpower alone provides. I expect members of Team 6-5 to challenge the status quo and make necessary changes to keep us ahead of our threats.
Secondly, I want to ensure every member of Team 6-5 has an opportunity to develop whether that is professionally or personally. I want to help my teammates reach their full potential — that is the only way the Air Base Group will thrive. Everyone must recognize that resilience and diversity add to the power of Team 6-5.
Finally, the United States, Portugal, and Spain have shared interests, a shared history, and most importantly a shared future. Our relationship is a symbol of trust and confidence. I am proud of our unique and special relationship, and I am proud of each and every one of the members in the 65th Air Base Group, which is why it is extremely important to continue to build upon and foster the exceptional relationships with our Portuguese and Spanish host nation partners.
Q. What are your goals as the 65th ABG commander?
A. To execute the mission, develop our Airmen, and to maintain exceptional relationships with our host nation partners. With linkages in our cultures, our prosperity, and our security, the quality and scope of cooperation between the United States, Portugal, and Spain is awesome and high. With shared interests, history, and most importantly a shared future, our robust security relationships are paramount to addressing an evolving security landscape and transnational threats. All three of these goals require teamwork and for the group to “fly” in one direction as a cohesive and integrated team.
Q. With that in mind, what are your expectations for members of your team?
A. I expect all members of Team 6-5 to be good teammates and treat each other, to include our Portuguese and Spanish host nation partners, with dignity and respect; there is no place within my group for anything less. I want Lajes Field and Morón Air Base to be awesome assignments and great places to work. That cannot happen if we do not value each other as teammates and treat each other with dignity and respect. These basic attributes are essential to our future success.
Q. Your Airmen consistently maintain a high ops tempo. What can we do moving forward to prioritize and take care of the mental health of our subordinates, peers, and ourselves?
A. Simple: watch and listen. People are creatures of habit, if someone seems “off,” unusually quiet, or something just does not seem right, say something. Ask the person how they are doing and if they are ok, but do not ignore it. Asking someone if they are all right or need to talk can make the difference in someone’s day or prevent something bad from potentially happening. The other aspect is to listen to people. People have the tendency to want to talk when they should just listen. I like to equate that to 80 percent listen, 20 percent talk. You would be amazed at how much you can help someone by just listening.
Q. How is the mission at Lajes Field evolving?
A. The mission at Lajes Field is evolving, we are reposturing for strategic competition. China is our primary national security threat and is the United States number one pacing challenge. China would like to possess Lajes due to its strategic location in the North Atlantic. The location of Lajes allows the airfield to act as a strategic projection platform which enables bombers and fighters to remain outside the threat ring, but close enough to support the European Deterrence Initiative and Middle East operations. The Azores is an important location, and the United States must hold on to it. Over the next 10 years, China is expected to double its nuclear stockpile while implementing the most rapid expansion and diversification of its nuclear arsenal in its history. For this reason, and many others, the United States must remain at Lajes. The United States cannot afford to allow China to get a foothold in the North Atlantic.
Q. What are some of the unique capabilities of Lajes?
A. Lajes Field is a force enabler, which is a unique capability. Lajes provides the Air Force the ability to project power to maintain Air Superiority by enabling the ability to strike targets at range and generate sorties in support of Agile Combat Employment and Bomber Task Forces. Current and future operations at Lajes supports SecAF’s Operational Imperatives, specifically number five, Resilient Forward Basing, and number seven, Readiness to Mobilize, Deploy, and Fight. Again, the location of Lajes closes a capability gap in the Air Force’s ability to support operational plans in a contested environment, which is why the Air Force must increase its investment in funding and manpower to ensure Lajes is properly postured for the future fight.
USAFs only military pier
The military pier located in the town of Praia Da Vitória is a great location for the Navy to dock ships like Aegis cruisers, frigates, etc., after small capital investment. Navy ships docking in Terceira will deter China’s aspiration to build an Atlantic PRC fleet and thwart expansion in the region. The pier is also used to replenish the fuel storage tanks for Lajes.
Largest fuel storage / ramp space in USAFE
The strategic value of Lajes Field cannot be overstated. Out of all the bases in USAFE, Lajes has the largest ramp size and jet fuel storage capacity compared to any other base in Europe. To put that in numbers, the ramp at Lajes is 21 percent of the total ramp size in square miles, and Lajes holds 48 percent of the total jet fuel storage capacity in gallons.
Atlantic area control / homeland defense
Lajes secures the Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea Lines of Communication, which amplifies operational reach. By occupying Lajes, the United States maintains North Atlantic area dominance, which translates to the “high ground” of the Atlantic and provides the initial deterrence/defense to protect our homeland.
Comms / satellite downlink coverage of the Mid-Atlantic Gap
Lajes personnel maintain a High Frequency Global Communications System on Terceira Island. The HFGCS is used to communicate with aircraft in flight, ground stations, and some naval surface vessels. Common uses of the HFGCS are to place telephone calls, obtain weather, arrange refueling, and transmit Emergency Action Messages.
Q. Are there any additional topics you would like to discuss?
A. I would like to say it is an absolute pleasure to be your commander and I am proud to lead the 65th Air Base Group with my command team, squadron commanders, and senior enlisted leaders. I can honestly say there are few experiences more rewarding and humbling than command. The opportunity to lead the Air Force’s greatest resource, our Airmen, and work side-by-side with our host nation partners, is a task I do not take lightly, and I am truly honored. The group is composed of phenomenal humans who do awesome work to execute a demanding mission.