Reflecting on a remarkable year

by Gen. Robert H.

***image1***RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – As we look back on the accomplishments of the past year, one word comes to mind — Wow!
We’ve come a long way since we started our quest fulfilling our vision. There is no doubt that through the extraordinary efforts of the men and women on the U.S. Air Forces in Europe team, we are leading the way for the most respected, all-purpose expeditionary air and space force in the world.
From the Berlin Airlift to Operation Iraqi Freedom, USAFE has been pivotal to the success of combat operations and humanitarian relief efforts around the globe.
With this in mind, we celebrated a milestone in May, the 16th Air Force’s 50th anniversary, and reflected on its five decades of service to the nation and to our NATO allies in the Southern Region. From providing a key forward presence during the Cold War, to leading the way in expeditionary air power during during Operation Allied Force, this numbered air force continues to play a vital role by implementing expeditionary leadership for our command.
As we reflect on the past, we’re also mindful of the challenges ahead. The USAFE Transformation Office stood up in June to oversee current transformation efforts in the command while fostering cultural change to meet future demands. Currently the USAFE Transformation Flight Plan is being developed to update the command’s strategic vision and guide improvements in three transformational areas: organizations, operational concepts and technology.
More specifically, their aim is to help USAFE make better use of limited resources (Airmen, time and money) to meet four strategic principles — influence global actions, readiness, theater engagement and a NATO leadership role. As we move forward, the Transformation Office will work with all of us to do away with an evolutionary mindset and replace it with a revolutionary one this next year.
With this progressive mindset, a wing structure was reinstituted at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, in March to provide the level of experienced leadership, supervision and knowledge necessary to ensure the base can continue to successfully execute its evolving mission — to serve as a key expeditionary focal point for ongoing operations in Iraq. Additionally, the 38th Combat Support Wing was activated in May to enhance USAFE’s ability to provide support to more than a dozen geographically separated units throughout Europe. The new wing provides support advocacy for many GSUs in theater. The diversity of missions and populations is unmatched by any other wing in the Air Force.
The restructuring and reorganization we’ve incorporated increases our operational capability, internally and externally. Together with our partners and allies, USAFE provides unparalleled warfighting capability.
USAFE sets the standard for AF expeditionary operations by continuing to focus on theater engagement and security cooperation efforts to build relationships, expand our allied partnerships and improve our strategic capabilities through a multitude of events. We do this with courageous Airmen, innovative ideas, realistic training and well-maintained equipment and facilities.
USAFE’s realistic planning and training was cemented through Air Forces Europe when it became the world’s first certified AF warfighting headquarters in April. During the three-phase Austere Challenge Exercise designed to validate our ability to perform our missions, the AFEUR Air Operations Center and staff successfully fought a 1,500 sortie / day war, planned a large scale Non-combatant Evacuation Operation and deployed, bedded down and sustained thousands of combat forces.
Moreover, our new Air Expeditionary Force Branch has improved the timeliness of readiness reporting in the AEF Reporting Tool by over 40 percent. This literally took our command from “worst to first” in the AF and gave the AEF Center and warfighting commands an accurate picture of forces available for deployment.
We have also provided significant capabilities to several contingency operations and made noteworthy progress on several key mission enablers.
Since the start of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, we have transported more than 17,000 patients out of Central Command and throughout Europe. Medical warfighters performed interoperability / training missions fostering international relations in eight countries treating 12,000 patients in cooperation with non-governmental organizations, host-nation military and local medical personnel. Every patient evacuated from OIF / OEF has been helped by one of our 300 Air Force medics stationed at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center or the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility at Ramstein. Our team of medical professionals is truly amazing.
We’ve accomplished significant training as well. We sent more than 130 combat and combat support aircraft to 13 deployed training events and participated in three high-tempo home station training events with over 100 aircraft. The deployed training events took place in 10 countries and involved the air forces from the United States, Italy, Belgium, Turkey, Germany, United Kingdom, Croatia, Romania, Spain and Slovakia and involved 1,600 USAFE members. The average time deployed was approximately 20 days and an excess of 2,100 training sorties were produced. With home-station training events, USAFE produced over 600 additional training sorties to practice additional contingency mission profiles for a total of over 2,700 deployed or exercise readiness-training sorties.
We are proving our expeditionary ability day in and day out. In MEDFLAG 2004, we deployed a 3rd
AF-led Joint Task Force to two locations in the Republic of South Africa to conduct real world medical care and humanitarian civil assistance projects. USAFE was also the lead component for Combined Endeavor 2004, the linchpin that tested 39 nations’ communications systems from different locations, where the results of these tests will be used by our coalition forces in Iraq to improve interoperability among our allies.
In addition to training, USAFE attended 17 air shows in 13 European countries and provided 23 fly-bys in six European countries. The most significant was USAFE’s superb lead of the multi-nation fly-by at Normandy for the 60th D-Day Anniversary. The culmination of these events form an incredibly important cornerstone of our engagement and interoperability campaign and contribute directly to the magnificent relationships we maintain with air forces around the area of responsibility.
These outstanding efforts ensured USAFE’s capability to offer highly ready, lethal forces to combatant commanders around the world.
However, whether we are deployed or at home station, all of us have roles and responsibilities to protect ourselves and our team members as the Global War on Terrorism continues. To help increase the readiness of our war fighters, the USAFE Inspector General developed eight Euro Thunder (a full spectrum threat response exercise) and two Euro Flash (a force protection response exercise) inspections. Maximizing the effort in these exercises will significantly increase each wing’s proficient responsiveness should a terrorist strike occur within USAFE.
Ultimately, USAFE’s readiness is directly tied to how well we take care of each other — and we have proven that we do it exceptionally well.
The 14 Combat and Special Interest Programs instituted within the command help us translate our vision, mission and goals into concrete results. We can be incredibly proud of USAFE’s accomplishments since program inception. Results clearly indicate our organization is focused and energized on key mission enablers: readiness, quality of life and services.
We’ve improved in 58 of 75 metrics tracked with an average improvement across all indicators of 20 percent.  We did so well in two areas that we no longer need to measure them because the standard of excellence has been institutionalized. Dedicated professionals in USAFE blew so far past our goals in seven indicators that we recently increased them, establishing new standards of excellence. In addition, our successes with many of the initiatives have led to recent expansions in the target audiences as well.
In line with making our command a better place to live, work and play, USAFE Services is investing toward improving future quality of life with 31 projects throughout Europe, to include new clubs, bowling centers, child and youth centers, lodging, fitness centers, skills development, car washes, dining facilities, swimming pools and community centers / libraries.
We continue to make progress in keeping each other safe. USAFE has maintained a pretty successful safety record so far. And although this is great news, several mishaps could easily have been worse, so we need to remain vigilant. We’ve also reduced motorcycle mishaps with Spangdahlem’s motorcycle club setting a strong example. We urge you to continue to do things the SMART and right way and recognize those who do by submitting them for a USAFE SMART Award.
We know the examples represented here are only a fraction of what has been accomplished this last year. Chief Coleman and I encourage you to stay vigilant and focus ahead on taking our USAFE team to the next level of excellence — increasing readiness, taking care of our people and accomplishing the mission in a superior way.
Thanks for all you do. It’s really no surprise, with the motivation and dedication of our USAFE team, that we represent the world’s most respected air and space power. I look forward to what feats our team will tackle in the year ahead!