By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Sept. 16, 2003) -- Air Force officials have determined that some airmen in Air and Space Expeditionary Force Blue will remain deployed longer than the scheduled 120 days.
Blue is the first of two transitional AEFs designed to bring the schedule back to a normal rotation. Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom forced the service into a contingency mode, breaking the normal steady-state deployment schedule.
Members of AEF Blue deployed in July for a scheduled 120 days. Airmen assigned to AEF Silver are set to replace Blue in November. Officials expect the deployment schedule to be back on track by March.
About 22,000 airmen are deployed for AEF Blue -- about one in 10 will remain deployed longer than others, according to Maj. Gen. Timothy A. Peppe, special assistant for AEF matters at the Pentagon.
"Those folks are in what we term our stressed career fields," Peppe said. "About 2,300 people may be gone longer than 120 days.
"Primarily it is security forces who are extended,” he said. “Some of the others may include air traffic control, civil engineering, services, medical and intelligence personnel."
Currently, AEF Center officials at Langley Air Force Base, Va., are working with combatant commanders and their Air Force components to size AEF Silver, the general said. Requirements are now just above 17,000, with more work to be done.
The general acknowledged the extra effort, but pointed out the purpose of the two AEFs is to put the Air Force back into the regular "battle rhythm."
The Air Force battle rhythm was designed to provide continuity and predictability to the airmen who support Air Force steady-state commitments around the globe. Such commitments would have included operations like Operation Northern Watch, but could be used to provide Air Force capability wherever it is needed, Peppe said.
In January, AEF 7 and AEF 8 airmen were actively supporting Air Force commitments around the globe. When it became clear there was need for a force buildup to support operations in Iraq, the Air Force "froze" them in place, effectively making their return-home date indefinite. As operational needs increased, the Air Force tapped into more AEFs, taking from each successive force package only what was needed, Peppe said. By the time it was all over, every AEF had been affected to some degree.
"We literally had some people from every AEF deployed (to) Iraq in some capacity," Peppe said. "We ended up deploying about 50,000 (airmen) and identified another 60,000 who could have gone."
Those airmen identified to support earlier operations, but who never actually deployed, are manning AEF Silver.
It is the remaining 60,000 "could-have-gone" airmen who were assigned to Blue and Silver. When AEF Silver’s scheduled deployment ends, airmen assigned to AEF 7 and AEF 8 will be vulnerable for deployment as the Air Force re-establishes its battle rhythm.
"An AEF is built to be used for whatever the nation asks it to do," Peppe said. "It can be for an exercise, a contingency or a full-up war. It can be used for anything."