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Geren: AF fighting three wars

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Sept. 13, 2005) -- The Air Force is now fighting three "wars," said the service's senior-most civilian leader.

Those three wars are the war on terrorism, the effort to provide disaster relief in the United States, and the push for reform of the Air Force acquisition process, said Pete Geren, acting Secretary of the Air Force, during the Air Force Association's 2005 Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition here Sept. 12.

Acting Secretary of the Air Force Pete Geren gives his state of the Air Force address here Sept. 12 to attendees of the Air Force Association's 2005 Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jim Varhegyi.

Mr. Geren said the Air Force is engaged in the war on terrorism 24 hours a day, but many Americans do not see the service's contributions to that fight.

"Our support for the global war on terror has been so dependable and successful, to the general public it is almost invisible," he said.

The acting secretary assured Airmen gathered at the conference that the Air Force is still engaged in that fight.

"Iraq and Afghanistan are seen by the public as Army operations now that the major combat is over," he said. "But the Air Force continues to play a vital role."

Mr. Geren said while fighting the war on terrorism, both terrorists and the Air Force have evolved in the way they do business.

One example includes the use of the F-16 Fighting Falcon as surveillance aircraft. He said Air National Guard units are using F-16s equipped with targeting pods to target and track enemy weapons and to even track enemy movements.

"In some cases, (they are) even spotlighting them with their laser designators, which, while invisible to the insurgents, are clear as day to Soldiers equipped with night-vision goggles," he said.

Also a sign of Air Force adaptability is Airmen moving supplies throughout Iraq.

Today, Airmen are running some of the supply convoys on the ground, a job traditionally done by the Army. He said there are as many as 2,500 Airmen in Iraq and Afghanistan filling traditional Army billets as drivers, security personnel, communications specialists and fuels technicians.

"That's the joint force in action," Mr. Geren said. "Each of those Airmen frees up a Soldier to fill Army-specific billets."

In the air, the Air Force is providing more airlift support with C-17 Globemaster III and C-130 Hercules aircraft to reduce the number of ground convoys needed, he said.

Airmen are also filling nontraditional roles outside of combat zones.

At home and abroad, the Air Force is committed to providing disaster relief, Mr. Geren said. Airmen flew about 1,300 sorties supporting disaster relief for victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia.

In the United States, he said, the Air Force is providing equivalent support to victims along the Gulf Coast. There are as many as 8,000 active duty, Guard and Reserve Airmen working alongside other services and relief agencies to save lives and relieve suffering in the wake of the hurricane.

"Our expeditionary nature makes us quick to respond, and your Air Force -- our total force -- (is) a critical part of that joint effort," Mr. Geren said.

Airmen working to support relief operations in the gulf region have conducted more than 5,000 rescues, treated more than 6,000 patients in New Orleans, and evacuated more than 27,000 people to safety, he said.

Finally, the acting secretary discussed the Air Force's acquisition process.

During the past year, the service has been the subject of much scrutiny on Capitol Hill over its acquisition practices. In fact, one senior Air Force official received jail time as a result of inappropriate acquisition activities.

Mr. Geren said those issues have led the Air Force to look at new ways of conducting business.

"Shortcomings in the way we define and execute our acquisition programs, along with the shameful actions by one of our own, have left us more determined than ever to reform our acquisition process," he said.

Mr. Geren said some of the recent problems stem from efforts in the past to streamline the acquisition process by purchasing major systems commercially. Part of that effort also reduced oversight into purchasing.

"Doing so, rather than using the traditional acquisition process, meant we could get systems to the field faster," he said.

But he also said the Air Force is working now to fix those problems.

"We are reducing the number of commercial purchases and are working with the office of the secretary of defense to update procedures for buying commercial items," he said. "Our biggest challenge is instilling greater discipline into the traditional acquisition process."

Another solution to the acquisition problem, and something critical to all three wars the Air Force is fighting, is a focus on core values, he said.

"In the end, all three of our struggles depend on one thing: the skill, dedication and integrity of our Airmen and their devotion to our core values -- integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do."