Air Force mission on the rise in Africa amid Afghan drawdown
Col. Kelly Passmore, 449th Air Expeditionary Group commander at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, talks about search and rescue missions while standing in front of one of his unit's HH60 Pave Hawk helicopters, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti — With an expansion effort well underway at this strategic military hub, expect more Air Force assets to be stationed at Camp Lemonnier in the years ahead as resources once dedicated to the war in Afghanistan begin to shift toward the African continent.
“Our presence here in Djibouti is enduring and I think it is growing,” said Col. Kelly Passmore, 449th Air Expeditionary Group commander at Camp Lemonnier. “As DOD has capacity that is freed up from our transition out of Afghanistan, it gives us forces that are able to now focus on this region.”
Additional aircraft taxiways and ramp space at Lemonnier will add flexibility “that will give us a more robust capability,” Passmore said. “It’s very likely it will get filled up over time.”
For the Air Force, the mission at Camp Lemonnier centers on providing air lift support for crisis response units, maintaining a surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities for intelligence gathering efforts in the region, and ensuring that a team of special operators is prepared to execute rescue missions around the clock.
“We cover the entire region and we’ve got enough assets here that it is a rare day that we aren’t able to meet that requirement,” said Passmore, whose unit provided airlift when Army crisis responders were sent into South Sudan to secure the U.S. embassy there.
In 2013, the airlift and personnel recovery mission unified under Air Force command. For years, the responsibility also was shared with the Marine Corps. The shift to an Air Force led effort has helped bring cohesion, Passmore said. The personnel recovery effort involves a range of air craft, including HH60 helicopters and HC-130s designed specifically for medical evacuations.
As the overall operation tempo increases in Africa, the potential for a medical evacuations, whether for illness or combat injuries, is likely to grow.
Capt. Keegan Owens, a combat rescue officer with the 82nd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, says his unit is in a constant state of readiness, prepared to parachute into the line of fire should hostilities emerge.
“It’s our job to get in while bullets are flying,” Owens said. “These (pararescumen) are able to provide the very best medical care in the most dangerous combat environment.”
Meanwhile, Passmore declined to go into detail about a hush-hush mission that is an open secret around Camp Lemonnier: Intelligence Reconnaissance and Surveillance operations conducted out of Djibouti.
“Obviously there is ISR capacity here,” he said. “The location in Djibouti is key. It is key for multiple combatant commands. From here you can reach Central Command’s and Africa Command’s areas of concern.”