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RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Maj. Steve LaCasse has the mother of all to-do lists.

Every day, a printout of hundreds of projects hits his desk reminding him of the buildings on Ramstein he needs to get painted, the weeds that need cutting and the walls that must be built.

It’s all part of Combat Proud, the program started by new U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander Gen. Robert H. Foglesong to spruce up USAFE bases.

Foglesong said Combat Proud is indeed about appearance, but not simply for cosmetics sake. He said a squared-away base reflects the efficiency and attention to detail that every successful Air Force member should possess.

“I can tell in 15 minutes when I go to another country’s base whether they are efficient, good operators. When people come in my main gate, they form an impression,” Foglesong said.

Plus, he said, American airmen will work harder if they feel good about their surroundings.

“People are more likely to do a good job if they are proud of where they work,” he said.

In the four months since Foglesong became head of USAFE and NATO’s Allied Air Forces North, he has instituted 12 new programs.

Along with Combat Proud, they include such programs as Combat Fitness to encourage airmen to get in shape; Combat Touch to help airmen become more spiritually aware; and Project Wizard, aimed at increasing resources at base libraries. Combat Nighthawk pairs senior noncommissioned officers with junior officers on night shifts around their bases.

Other programs focus on improving education, encouraging airmen to do volunteer work, cheering up single airmen and caring for families of deployed troops.

“[They] play a vital role in ensuring [airmen] are ready to fight and postured to respond anywhere, while providing superior services to the world-class men and women serving in USAFE,” Foglesong wrote in a public letter to USAFE members Friday.

Combat Proud is probably the most visible of the 12 programs.

LaCasse started with 3,000 items on the Ramstein Combat Proud to-do list, and so far, more than 2,000 of them have been completed. But new calls come in every day on the Combat Proud hot line, pointing out an errant flower box or construction zone that needs primping.

More than 200 of the items are from Foglesong himself, known to spot aesthetic deficiencies during his daily seven-mile runs around the base.

LaCasse has been working 12- to 14-hour days since October to keep up.

“I’ve only had one Combat Proud dream so far, so that’s good,” LaCasse said.

Making it so

Wing Chaplain (Col.) Lee Thompson said it hasn’t been easy to implement Combat Touch, Foglesong’s program to “encourage people toward religious, moral and ethical maturity.”

Thompson oversees 15 chaplains and 12 chaplains assistants who are responsible for ministering to more than 9,000 active-duty Air Force members, nearly 10,000 dependents and roughly 4,000 civilians in the Kaiserslautern area.

“When it comes to reducing it all to one program, it gets a little difficult,” Thompson said.

But Foglesong has put his money behind the project, and that helps, Thompson said. Foglesong dedicated the cash to buy furniture and computers to establish several chaplain outreach offices in busy shops on Ramstein’s flight line.

And chaplains are coming up with their own programs to meet Combat Touch goals.

Chaplain (Maj.) Fred McFarland is developing a class he calls Spiritual Self-Aid and Buddy Care Program, which will teach airmen how to identify when one of their friends or colleagues is struggling with an ethical or moral issue.

“We’ll be having hundreds of kids in the dorms asking ‘Is my buddy OK?’” Thompson said.

Foglesong even bought the chaplain corps a four-wheeled vehicle called a “gator” that its members will use to run hot and cold drinks out to the airmen working on the flight line.

Foglesong calls such encounters with airmen “access points,” and he has encouraged the chaplains to expand them, Thompson said.

“[Combat Touch] has provided focus to everything we already did,” Thompson said.

Foglesong, 58, a fighter pilot from West Virginia, is perfectly aware that he’s pushing his people hard. He pioneered some of the Combat programs in 1994 when he was wing commander at Osan Air Base, South Korea.

“I’ve really asked them to do some extraordinary things around the base,” Foglesong said.

For two months, Foglesong met with the 12 project leaders every day to get updates on how the programs were going. Now those meetings are down to three times a week. The general even brought the 12 project officers with him on a recent trip to the United States so they could brief him about the combat programs on the long trans-Atlantic flight.

“I’m generally not interested in a five-year plan. I’m interested in a five-minute plan,” Foglesong said.

Change is difficult

Like any major change, the combat programs have caused some grousing. Ramstein, a key airlift hub for the European and Middle East theaters, already is known as one of the busiest bases in the Air Force.

The programs are heaping on extra work, some say.

For example, one Air Force major who asked not to be identified noted in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes: “We are losing people on a nearly daily basis in Iraq, and we have USAFE leadership concerned about [things like] this.” Attached to his e-mail were a series of correspondences about the removal of temporary buildings used for storage on the base — considered a high-priority mission at the time.

One noncommissioned officer relaxing at a popular Landstuhl watering hole was more succinct, saying “it sucks” when his squadron members have to leave their assigned duties to go paint a building or rake leaves for the Combat Proud program.

Last week, 40 airmen from various units were sent to do just that — augment Ramstein civil engineers who couldn’t possibly keep up with the workload. About a dozen usually-desk-bound airmen painted NATO’s Belgian component office building that afternoon.

“It will keep me away from my job, and we’re low-manned,” Tech. Sgt. Brian Ventrone, a computer specialist, said as he painted.

“Somebody’s got to do it, I guess,” said fellow painter Tech. Sgt. Brenda Billings.

Meanwhile, civil engineers are trying to make sure that their projects are aesthetically pleasing to Foglesong, who has ordered such changes as the removal of traditional concrete force-protection barriers and replaced them with specially made walls.

LaCasse showed off four styles of walls built from bricks and paints of various shades that will be used to shield buildings and hide garbage cans and construction zones.

Eventually, Foglesong promises, airmen will get used to the programs and they will stay afloat on their own.

“After six months, it will become institutionalized. But for the first six months, you have to pay attention to it routinely,” Foglesong said.

So far, Foglesong has earmarked $1.2 million for the programs at USAFE’s six main operating bases in Europe, where more than 35,000 active-duty airmen, civilians and reservists live and work. Of those airmen, more than 3,000 are deployed in various locations around the world.

Perhaps the biggest impact already has been felt at Ramstein — which Foglesong reportedly has said did not look like a “four-star base,” when he arrived.

Through Combat Proud programs, Ramstein buildings have fresh coats of brown and beige paint, World War II-era bunkers are being torn down and weed-covered open spaces are neatly trimmed.

Along the so-called DV Route, where distinguished visitors such as the Air Force secretary or members of Congress are taken on windshield tours, new American flags flutter and rows of state flags fly. USAFE’s elite guard members, who watch over the command headquarters and Foglesong’s living quarters, have even taken to wearing their colorful ascots to accent their uniforms.

Foglesong’s eagle eye for anything out of place on Ramstein prompted airmen invited to the base’s annual Christmas party to give their commander a good-natured gift: a black blindfold.

LaCasse may wish he had one.

“My girlfriend gets mad at me when we’re driving on base on the weekends and I start noticing all the things that still need to be done,” LaCasse said. “She says ‘Are you working right now, or what?’”

Initiatives

Combat Proud: Aims at improving base appearance to foster pride and productivity.Combat Nighthawk: Links senior noncommissioned officers with junior officers on a night shift to act as the base commander’s eyes and ears, as well as help hone leadership skills.Combat Education: Helps airmen pursue higher education by offering more flexible and innovative class schedules.Combat Touch: Focuses on the spiritual needs and well-being of airmen and their families.Combat Flightline: Helps enhance flying operations by making sure that the best personnel are in the right jobs.Combat Intro/Exit: Streamlines base in-processing and out-processing.Combat Fitness: Works to improve airmen’s physical fitness.Combat Care: Improves care, resources, attention and information spouses and families receive while the military member is deployed.Hidden Heroes: Encourages active-duty military members, Department of Defense civilians and family members to volunteer on base and in their communities.Project CHEER: Stands for Creating Hope, Energy, Enthusiasm and Recreation. Meant to help single and unaccompanied airmen of all ranks during the holiday season and dreary winter months with activities and outings.Customer College: Through a weeklong course, seeks to make frontline customer service representatives, from military personnel workers to shoppette clerks, better at their jobs.Project Wizard: Aims at increasing members and families’ use of libraries.

— Source: USAFE

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