AFA, Hill host national symposium

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- Lt. Gen. Terry L. Gabreski, Air Force Materiel Command vice commander, was one of several past and present Air Force leaders who spoke to more than 300 attendees, both military and civilian, at the 28th annual Air Force Association Focus on Defense Symposium at the Davis Conference Center, Layton. The theme of this year's event was "Air Force Participation in the Global War on Terror: Accomplishments and Challenges."

"The threat is real, and has been for a long time," said General Gabreski at the symposium, June 20. "We must be as committed as our enemy to this fight."

There was one common theme that resonated throughout every speech. The Air Force is playing a critical role in the fight, despite what is reported in the media, and it is flying more than ever with an aged fleet of air and space assets. These challenges, however, do not stop the Air Force from achieving its goals of winning the Global War on Terror, developing and caring for its Airmen, and modernizing and recapitalizing its aircraft and equipment.

"We have been engaged in non-stop combat missions for the last 16 years," said Brig. Gen. Kathleen D. Close, Ogden Air Logistics Center commander and military host for the event, in her opening remarks. "Winning the Global War on Terror is priority number one," stressing that today's Air Force can strike any target, any time, any where and more rapidly than ever.

General Close also emphasized the relationship between the military, the local community, and industry must be strong to succeed in winning the war.

"We rely heavily on all players," she said, "to include local and state cooperation." She challenged any other state to compete with the amount of support military installations receive from the state and community.

"This symposium is important because it builds ties with our community leaders and industry," echoed Col. Robert McMurry, commander of the 508 Aircraft Component Sustainment Group and the base's Focus on Defense liaison. He said the symposium helps Airmen at all levels as well as the community understand what goes on at Hill, within AFMC and within the Air Force. Education of the community, industry and the political system at all levels to the Air Force mission is needed and vital to the service's successes.

This relationship has fostered many successes in the Global War on Terror since Sept. 11, 2001. General Gabreski reported that AFMC, with help from industry and the academic world, is making great strides in the areas of technology, acquisition, testing and sustainment. These strides are being seen in the end by the Airmen in the field and in the sky, saving the government millions of dollars annually, and most importantly, saving lives.

Airmen are making significant contributions in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. Twenty-eight thousand Airmen are currently deployed around the world, according to Maj. Gen. David E. Clary, vice commander, Air Combat Command. One in six is filling a position in lieu of the Army. Approximately 125 ACC aircraft are deployed to 16 different countries, and on any given day in the AOR 80 strike/non-traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions are flown as well as 16 ISR sorties, some of these lasting 30 hours. The total force, is working closer than ever and is even merging to become better equipped to fight in this conflict. General Clary praised the Total Force Initiative taken on by Hill AFB's 388th and 419th Fighter Wings and called their TFI a classic model. The general feels the one force approach is imperative to success especially given the current manning and budget challenges in the Air Force.

Air Mobility Command director of logistics, Brig. Gen. Robert H. McMahon said that AMC is flying nearly 900 sorties a day throughout the world. They are now flying more sorties in Iraq and Afghanistan transporting the equivalent of 3,500 cargo trucks and more than 9,000 people to their deployed locations monthly, removing them from the dangers of convoys.

In return, aircraft have been involved in direct enemy fire 215 times in fiscal year 2006, and with aircraft like the C-5, which is 37 years old and is being overflown by 209 percent, that wear and tear is accumulating and replacements are more than 40 years away from being in the inventory.

"You can't talk about the Global War on Terror without talking about the human sacrifice," said Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Thomas J. Loftus, assistant surgeon general for health care operations. General Loftus said there have been more than 9,450 battle injuries since Sept. 11, more than 40,000 deployed patients aeromedically evacuated in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since Oct. 2003, and there are currently 1,400 medical personnel deployed in support of these operations. These personnel do three times the work with one-tenth the beds and fewer personnel than their Operation Desert Storm/Shield counterparts.

Despite these limitations, advancements in the medical arena are some of the largest improvements since the Gulf War, which were applauded by all. One such improvement is the reduction in aeromedical evacuation from a ten-day to a three-day time frame for a soldier being injured on the battlefield to being treated at a world-class facility in the United States.

General McMahon added that the Department of Defense places such high emphasis on giving top-quality treatment to every Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine - every single life is valuable. Any man or woman, no matter their rank, if they're willing to risk their life then they're worth that kind of treatment.

Former Secretary of the Air Force, F. Whitten Peters, said the largest problem he foresaw the Air Force facing, besides the ongoing war on terror, is retaining its personnel. Airmen in their 20s and 30s are concerned about their families, getting a better education for themselves and their significant other, and pursuing hobbies. However, with some mid-level Airmen serving their fourth, fifth and even sixth deployments, many are making the decision to separate. They are choosing their families and personal goals instead of long, full careers in the Air Force. This vacancy will potentially leave the force without an adequate number of senior non-commissioned officers.

The symposium closed with a two-day charity golf tournament to raise money for the AFA's Aerospace Education Foundation. Over the past 27 years, the AEF has contributed more than $640,000 in scholarships for such organizations as the Hill AFB Aerospace Museum Student Learning Center, Hill AFB Spouses' Scholarship Programs, Utah Schools Aerospace and Science Programs and various Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps programs throughout the state.