AF considers personnel shifts for AFRICOM
Stars and Stripes March 25, 2008
Though the fledgling U.S. Africa Command is barely off the ground, the Air Force is considering personnel shifts within Europe to accommodate future missions to the continent.
While supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is paramount, the future needs of AFRICOM — set to be fully operational by October — will require a shift in personnel southward from England and Germany to Spain, Italy and Portugal, said Col. Keith Keck, chief of the Strategic Planning Division at Air Mobility Command headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.
The command is working with U.S. Air Forces in Europe to possibly reroute AFRICOM traffic out of its current hub at Ramstein Air Base in Germany through Naval Station Rota and Morón Air Base in Spain, Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily and Lajes Field — a Portuguese island base in the Atlantic, Keck said.
“Would it be more appropriate to have the focus of AFRICOM coming out of one of those bases? That’s what we’re trying to figure out now,” said Keck.
Ramstein is convenient and subsequently popular — particularly since the closing of Rhein-Main Air Base outside Frankfurt — “but we can’t fit everything into Ramstein so we have to look at other places,” Keck said.
Citing pending agreements between U.S. forces and the host nations involved, Keck stopped short of saying exactly how many of AMC’s 3,000 Europe-based personnel might be re-assigned and exactly where they could wind up.
Other unknowns include the questionable infrastructure on the sprawling continent.
“We need to look at how we move stuff into Africa and what the requirements will be. The two biggest things about AFRICOM is how big Africa is, and moving any place to and from Africa, it takes a lot of effort in the distance there,” Keck said.
“The requirement in Africa today is not a huge footprint, but we don’t know what AFRICOM will require in the future,” he said.
Meanwhile, AFRICOM is not expected to move from its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. And it will likely be a while before the southern European bases are taxed with Africa-bound missions, said Vince Crawley, AFRICOM spokesman.
“We don’t have yet a high requirement for airlift on the continent,” said Crawley, adding that the new command plays a primarily bureaucratic role at this point. With only 2,100 troops and civilians on the ground, U.S.-backed humanitarian relief and military training in Africa take a back seat to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The U.S. European Command “has for years wanted to do more in Africa but has had its resources drained by the global war on terrorism,” he said. The U.S. spends about $250 million per year in Africa while the cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost billions each week.
Still, as the Air Force streamlines operations, advance planning is critical to ensuring that the 10 European “en route” bases AMC uses to funnel troops and cargo downrange stay strategically on point.
“What you’re seeing is a leaner and more capable system than what you’ve seen in the past,” said Lt. Col. Craig Peters, commander of the 779th Expeditionary Airlift Flight operating out of Ramstein.
“It’s a very delicate balance to get the limited assets we have in limited locations in a limited time,” Peters said. “It’s really a shell game in the end.”