RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Airmen in Europe might be returning to three-month rotation schedules by spring or early summer, their top commander said Thursday.

But Gen. Robert F. Foglesong, who took command of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe on Aug. 12, indicated that the return to shorter assignments won’t happen if it compromises USAFE’s ability to carry out orders.

“If it allows us to stay in condition to stay ready and keep skills honed,” Foglesong said. “We don’t want to leave [airmen] with their tongue hanging out so much that they can’t train adequately.”

The three-month rotation was established to staff areas such as the no-fly zones in Iraq without keeping troops away from home for too long.

Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom have required troops to be deployed for longer periods. Returning to three-month rotations, he said, is dependent on what happens in coming months.

“We’re all on board on doing whatever we need to do in this global war on terrorism,” Foglesong said.

“At issue is how long we’re going to be in Iraq and Afghanistan and whatever else pops up in the meantime, which is relatively unpredictable,” he said.

Foglesong said the much-discussed transformation could result in new air bases in Africa and the eastern Mediterranean nations but plans are still being developed. The key is finding places where pilots and support staff can train adequately.

“I’m hesitant to [say] where,” Foglesong said. “Some will depend on infrastructure that’s available. Some will depend on where we can do adequate training. Airspace is a big issue.

“All those things have to be thought through.”

Foglesong said that USAFE’s recommendations are just a part of what the U.S. European Command under Gen. James L. Jones has to weigh. Jones, in turn, will pass along EUCOM’s overall recommendations to the Department of Defense, which will fold it into its global plan.

“The capabilities we have over here will have to be resourced, managed and trained in a way so that if General Jones needs to send us somewhere, or the secretary of defense needs to send us somewhere, even outside this theater, that we have the wherewithall, training, doctrine and procedures to do that,” Foglesong said.

Smaller programs that Foglesong said he planned to implement at Europe’s air bases include:

Combat Education — taking away the barriers faced by airmen who want to take college courses, such as having courses taught at unconventional hours to better accommodate needs.Open “customer colleges” — one-week training for those who provide services to airmen. They would consist of “bedside manner” improvements — answering phones properly, offering solutions and solving problems instead of “just telling somebody ‘no.’”Hidden Heroes — giving recognition to volunteers who deserve it.Foglesong said he did not think morale is a problem at USAFE.

“The 11th of September changed all of us for the rest of our lives,” he said. “I believe the American public believes its military responded superbly. I think they’re very proud of what they’ve seen us do.

“[Airmen] know even in a hard place like Afghanistan and … Iraq that they’re there for a specific reason. They’d rather be there fighting than fighting back in the United States.”

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