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Fighters flying new missions, Airmen serving jointly

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (April 01, 2005) -- In the war on terrorism, both aircraft and Airmen are performing missions nobody ever thought they would, a U.S. Central Command official said.

Air Force fighter aircraft are performing intelligence missions today that they have not in the past, said Lt. Gen. Lance L. Smith, CENTCOM’s deputy commander.

Deputy Commander of U.S. Central Command Lt. Gen. Lance L. Smith, U.S. Air Force, said Airmen and aircraft are today performing missions in Iraq and Afghanistan that no one ever thought they would. He also siad they are doing a superb job of it. Department of Defense photo by R. D. Ward.

"We are using fighters in a way that I don't think has always been envisioned, at least not by the fighter community," he said. “We have very good sensors on the airplanes. As they fly in both Afghanistan and Iraq, in many cases, they are using those sensors to try and provide situational awareness to people on the ground."

General Smith said the aircraft are protecting high-powered electrical lines and oil pipelines, as well as providing support to special operations forces while providing top cover and intelligence to troops on the ground.

"What you have up there is a thinking, capable individual with a situational awareness that he can communicate to folks on the ground," General Smith said. "He can (also) take action because he is armed and capable of going after whatever target happens to be down there. That is a critical use of a manned (aircraft)."

Some Airmen also are performing missions they may never have thought they would do. They are filling traditional Army roles like truck driver or prison guard. General Smith said those Airmen are performing superbly, though sometimes they are a little shaken by the things they have experienced.

"I have met a number of the truck drivers, right after they had their first experience having real bombs blowing up," he said. "They now know what an improvised explosive device looks like and sounds like, and they are pretty wide-eyed. But, they are also very professional and proud of what they are doing. And, they are doing an extraordinary job."

Immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, the Air Force received assistance from the Army to fill shortfalls in security forces positions; Soldiers then stood as gate guards at air bases around the world. Today, Airmen return the favor by filling manning shortages in the Army.

"As you know, the Army is stretched right now with the number of forces they have around the world, and our guys have done a great job of helping out," General Smith said. "But because our guys are helping out, some of the Army troops are able to get up there and do what they are better trained to do."

This Army is the type of joint-service partnership General Smith said he has seen throughout the command.

"What we are seeing over there in jointness at the tactical level is the wave of the future," he said. "If you were to go to Balad (Air Base, Iraq), for instance, and look at the joint operations support squadron or the air base ground defense organizations, you'll see Airmen sitting next to Soldiers, and you can't tell the difference."

Airmen, Soldiers, Marines and Sailors are eating, living and working together throughout the region, General Smith said. It is the kind of jointness he expects will continue long after conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have subsided.

"Together they are able to do things I don't think we could do independently," he said. "(The jointness) is working effectively, and our goal is -- when this winds down -- to continue that effort and train to fight like that."

General Smith said the positive effects of joint-service operations are important, however, he said there are benefits of keeping the services independent of one another.

"There is great wisdom in having the separate services and the tension that is created between them as they look at things from a different perspective," he said. "But there are clearly places we have to be in the same building, looking at the same scope."

Still, the effectiveness achieved by seamless joint operations and by the mission readiness of Airmen and all the sister services is what is making the missions in Iraq a success for our armed forces, General Smith said.

"We are winning over there. We are winning because of the great young men and women performing the mission every day," he said. "They are the future leaders of our country. We are developing young men and women with skills and leadership capabilities that will serve our nation well into the future."