When I came on board 20 months ago, it did not take long for me to realize the Air Ground Operations Wing, and then subsequently the Air Expeditionary Wing, are like no other wings I have ever been associated with.
The AGOW has over 1,200 Airmen from 81 career fields spread across three continents, which are unbelievably effective at executing our five mission areas: expeditionary airfields on demand, joint airpower integration, multitheater operational support and sustainment, premier specialty training, and building partnership capacity.
In Africa, we have over 900 deployed Airmen employing expeditionary airpower and ensuring access through base operation support-integrator; personnel recovery; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and remotely piloted aircraft operations.
Last year had no shortage of surprises. The crisis with Russian separatists in Ukraine and the Ebola outbreak in Africa were unexpected challenges, and our two wings were tasked for both events. This is despite the fact that AGOW was already performing over 130 operations in 54 countries, training over 3,000 security forces, civil engineering, services and personnel Airmen, while supporting over 100 exercises around the area of responsiblity. It was a busy year, to say the least, and you collectively rose to the challenge and surpassed all expectations.
We live in an age of fiscal constraint; however, it is also an age of opportunity. Our Airmen are smarter than ever, and their expertise and creativity are what keeps the mission going.
Airmen like Tech. Sgt. Robert Grotefend was a crucial member of the 435th AMS team that created the Landing Zone Program. This program generated 10 certified LZ surveyors and eight certified LZ operators, giving U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa its first organic capability to perform these functions — all with a zero manpower cost to the command and savings on the order of $25,000 per survey.
Senior Airman Jose Torres engineered a do-it-yourself solution to drainage issues we were having at one of our sites in Africa. Thanks to his out-of-the-box thinking and fabrication skills, the site now has working washers and dryers — a huge quality of life win for folks living in austere conditions.
Family is the foundation of our success. We have a great Air Force family, but I have to highlight our spouses and children, who forfeit so much of their wants and needs for us. I cannot overstate how much they do for us behind the scenes to help make the mission go. Our 2014 Key Spouse of the Year, Alicia Barnett (no relation), led the “Books for Africa” project, which provided books and journals to an Ethiopian village. That, just as much as the missions our air advisers execute, builds partnership capacity.
As we continue through 2015, there is no doubt that our AORs will continue to have strategic importance to the United States and its allies. So, here is my challenge to you. Stay light. Stay lethal. Continue to execute the mission with the excellence that only you can, but remember to take care of yourselves, your peers and your families. I am humbled to be associated with you, and I cannot wait to see all of your future successes.