Using airmen for Army war missions costly, Air Force general says
November 11, 2006
ARLINGTON, Va. — It’s time for the Air Force to have a talk with the Army about the practice of using airmen for missions in Iraq and Afghanistan that are traditionally performed by soldiers, such as convoy operations, interrogations and military policing, a four-star Air Force general said Thursday.
“It’s a problem, because I’m spending money to train my troops in skills I don’t maintain in the U.S. Air Force,” Gen. Ronald Keys, commander, Air Combat Command based at Langley Air Force Base, Va., told reporters at a Washington breakfast meeting.
Keys was referring to a phenomenon the military calls “in-lieu-of,” or ILO, taskings, which are duties servicemembers are assigned that fall outside their normal service specialties.
First in a trickle, then in larger numbers, both the Air Force and Navy have been sending ILO personnel to assist the Army.
Because the Air Force does not “maintain the core competencies to drive convoys with 50-caliber gun trucks to defend third-country nationals,” the service has had to add special training programs in order to provide adequately prepared airmen, Keys said.
One of these courses is the Basic Combat Convoy Course at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
The Air Force has contributed a significant number of airmen to help move material over Iraq's dangerous roads in Iraq: as of September 2006, over 1,800 airmen, who have conducted more than 8,000 convoy operations, according to Tech. Sgt. Jason Hohenstreiter, a lead instructor at the Combat Course.
In addition to convoy operators, the Air Force has also supplied hundreds of volunteer interrogators, another job that doesn’t exist in the Air Force, to help lessen the burden on the Army.
Meanwhile, the Air Force is also deploying large numbers of military police, explosive ordnance disposal experts (EODs), and combat engineers, which are part of the Air Force’s “core competencies,” as service leaders call them.
But Air Force doctrine has traditionally earmarked these kinds of specialists to protect Air Force assets, rather than be used in the general “joint” warfighting pool, Keys noted.
And the deployment tempo of the war is so demanding that when commanders want access to the limited number of skilled personnel it does have in those fields, it’s very hard to get it these days, Keys said.
For example, he said, in Air Combat Command, “my security forces are on one-one dwell. [That means] They’re in Iraq six months and then home six months,” Keys said.
“And during that six months, they’re gone for almost two, training for their next rotations.”
Similar situations apply “to a whole host of people,” Keys said.
Meanwhile, there’s the budget issue, Keys said. Even for those airmen who aren’t serving “ILO” taskings in Iraq and Afghanistan, “I have this huge training bill,” Keys said. That’s because the Air Force has had to step up many of its typical training programs to support the war, including additional hours of combat medical training, improvised explosive device awareness, more weapons training and other combat skills.
The Air Force is happy to offer its personnel to help out the Army during a time of need, Keys said.
“We are fine with doing that in order to give the Army the opportunity to reset their force,” Keys said. “They are in a situation where they are trying to modularize their Army in the midst of a fairly huge war …. They need to break loose some headroom.”
But it has been four years now, and there is no end in sight to the use of airmen in such unconventional roles, Keys said.
“We ought to discuss it, and decide where we’re going to draw the lines, so we can allocate that precious budget we have in the right places and not duplicate,” Keys said.
Army spokesman Paul Boyce told Stars and Stripes on Thursday that the Army is ready to talk about the issue any time the Air Force wants to raise it. “We welcome the general’s comments, and look forward to working with his staff,” Boyce said.
But Keys, who is also Air Component Commander for U.S. Joint Forces Command and U.S. Northern Command, noted that it is not actually his job to hash out the “roles and missions” questions.
Instead, that falls to the Air Force staff in the Pentagon.
“I [just] complain a lot,” he said.