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Lt. Col. Eric Armstrong from the Pacific Air and Space Expeditionary Force Team Tuesday briefs airmen about to be deployed from Yokota Air Base, Japan.
Lt. Col. Eric Armstrong from the Pacific Air and Space Expeditionary Force Team Tuesday briefs airmen about to be deployed from Yokota Air Base, Japan. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — About 3,000 airmen will fill Army support requirements in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next 20 months as part of the latest Aerospace Expeditionary Force cycle, which begins Monday.

It’s among several changes being discussed this week by a Pacific Air Forces outreach team that met with Yokota servicemembers and their families Monday and Tuesday. The team was scheduled to be at Misawa Air Base in northern Japan through Friday.

“We want to take field issues back to the Pentagon,” said Lt. Col. Eric Armstrong, chief of the PACAF outreach team. “AEF is not a volunteer process. We tell them, ‘You’re going.’ … We can’t control the time line. How we get ’em there and how we treat them, that’s what we’re looking at. We want to smooth the process.”

The group went to Osan and Kunsan air bases in South Korea in January and will stop at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, and Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, this summer.

“We try to hit each PACAF base every one to two years,” said Maj. Eileen Kirkland, who led briefings Tuesday at Yokota’s Airman Leadership School and Family Support Center. “We educate airmen about the new processes and procedures and talk with leadership about current issues. … It’s designed to let them know we are looking out for PACAF concerns.”

With most National Guard and Reserve movements exhausted since Sept. 11, 2001, the Army is turning to the Navy and Air Force for help with security, convoys, civil engineering, infrastructure support and other critical roles in the war on terror, according to Armstrong.

Kirkland said 1,700 airmen handled such duties during AEF Cycle 5, which ends this week. The Army requested 10,000 additional Air Force personnel for the upcoming AEF Cycle 6 but is getting 3,000.

Integrating tasks across Air Force and Army lines can be a challenge, she added.

“We’ve had to institute new training specific to the area our people are going,” she said. “We try very hard to make sure no one goes into theater unprepared.”

Right now, defense contractors visit bases to teach airmen combat skills and convoy-ambush survival tactics, Kirkland said. By 2009, officials hope to make Moody Air Force Base, Ga., the official training site for airmen heading into hostile environments.

The Air Force routinely checks how its people are being used downrange by the Army, Armstrong said. It once discovered a logistics airman had been assigned to finance duty while a linguist was training Iraqi cooks.

“That’s one that’ll get our attention,” he added.

Those tapped for Army support deploy for six months, the team said. Key leadership positions, personnel jobs and specialists who help train Iraqi or Afghan forces are usually given yearlong assignments to maintain continuity.

While there has been talk of instituting one-year AEF rotations, Kirkland said 80 percent of the deployments would remain four months in length.

Among other AEF changes on tap, she added: More sexual-assault response coordinators are being placed in war zones to deal with an increase in incidents, and troops returning from global hot spots won’t be allowed to take the mandatory two-week leave until reaching their home bases.

“That’s changing because they’re worried about stresses,” Kirkland said. “The thinking is commanders and NCOICs can look in their eyes and see if Johnny’s not like he was before being on the Baghdad highway for a year. The Air Force doesn’t want to have the high incidence of stress the Army has had.”

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