ARLINGTON, Va. — After the war in Iraq disrupted the Air Force’s Air and Space Expeditionary Force schedule, service officials have come up with a fix designed to get everyone back to normal by next spring: two “transitional” AEF wings cobbled together with airmen who haven’t packed their bags for a while.

The Air Force instituted AEFs in 1999 as a way to give theater commanders a flexible, easily deployed package of Air Force assets, while at the same time adding more predictability to the lives of airmen and their families.

There are 10 AEF wings, each with about 15,000 personnel. Rotation plans call for AEF wings to be activated on a 15-month cycle, which includes a 10-month training period, two months to prepare for deployment, and three months in which the force is actually eligible to deploy.

But Operation Iraqi Freedom’s quick follow to Operation Enduring Freedom, along with the increase in Pacific Air Forces in response to tension with North Korea, threw that schedule off track.

As a result, some airmen have been deployed for as long as nine months, with no immediate relief in sight — three times longer than the AEF cycle calls for.

But that situation is about to change, thanks to a plan announced earlier this week by Maj. Gen. Timothy Peppe, special assistant for AEF matters at the Pentagon.

Air Force chiefs have decided to form two temporary, transitional AEFs, each of which will rotate for 120 days, Peppe told Air Force News on May 21.

The “Blue” transitional wing will be on call to fulfill mission requirements between July and November, while the “Silver” wing will be on call from November through March 2004 — at which point the regular AEF plan will be caught up and back to normal.

The transitional wings will be staffed with units and airmen who have not yet been called up for deployments.

The airmen most likely to get called are those assigned to AEFs 9 and 10, and 1 and 2, who were identified to support Operation Iraqi Freedom but did not deploy, Peppe said. AEFs deploy in pairs.

War plans called for the Air Force to deploy 150,000 airmen, but only 50,000 actually made the trip.

Air Force officials intend to notify airmen who might deploy as part of the Blue team around June 10, Peppe said. Silver notifications will go out later.

In addition to the Blue and Silver teams, Peppe said that depending on the world situation, some additional aircraft, aircrew and associated maintenance units might be told to deploy to help ease the transition period.

In an open letter dated May 9, Air Force Chief of Staff John Jumper wrote that airmen who have not deployed over the last six to eight months will be used “to the maximum extent possible” to staff the transitional AEF wings.

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