More than Airmen: services are combining forces, blurring the lines between Airmen, Marines, Soldiers and Sailors.
The Air Force trained Staff Sgt. Amelia Grahn as a transportation dispatcher, but she found herself providing cover for convoys in Iraq.
Like Captain Blocher and Sergeant Grahn, more Airmen are stepping out of the blue and into the purple--the color used to describe joint operations.
Today is the world of "jointness," where "interoperability" is the key to any successful mission. Although jointness may seem like the buzz word of the day, the concept has always existed.
In 1991, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell said in Joint Warfare of the U.S. Armed Forces:
"So it is when the armed forces of the United States go to war. We must win every time.
Every Soldier must take the battlefield believing his or her unit is the best in the world.
Every pilot must take off believing there is no one better in the sky.
Every Sailor standing watch must believe there is no better ship in the sea.
Every Marine must hit the beach believing that there are no better infantrymen in the world.
But they all must also believe that they are part of a team, a joint team, that fights together to win.
This is our history, this is our tradition, this is our future."
Joint warfare's checkered past
Joint warfare dates back to the Civil War when the Union Army, Navy and Marine Corps combined to split and defeat the Confederacy.
Later, joint warfare was used during the Korean and Vietnam wars, but it wasn't until Operation Urgent Fury in 1983 that the importance of joint warfare came to light. The operation successfully rescued American medical students, removed the communist-led government and restored the legitimate governor in Grenada. However, Congressional investigation into Urgent Fury revealed the critical need for joint doctrine, since the services failed to successfully integrate during the operation. This led to the creation of the Joint Warfare Center, Hurlburt Field, Fla., in 1987. In November 2003, the Air Force developed its own transformation flight plan, which includes a joint philosophy.
"America's armed forces must be re-balanced for future operations," wrote Dr. James Roche, Secretary of the Air Force, and Gen. John Jumper, Air Force chief of staff. "What we require is a capability mix consistent with pre-defined concepts and effects-driven methodology. Future programs must be conceived with this mix in mind ... those that don't consider the emerging joint character ... will find themselves obsolete, irrelevant and candidates for elimination."
Thus the appearance of the Joint Strike Fighter, the joint terminal air controller, battalion air liaison officer, combat weather and a host of other joint-related positions. For some Air Force commands, it's been a difficult transition. For special forces, it's been a way of life.
The joint world is a familiar and comfortable place for Air Force Special Operations Command.
"We're on a first-named basis because we see so much of each other," said Col. Scott Schafer about the "tremendous relationship" among Air Force, Army and Navy special operators who conduct joint training on a habitual basis. On the contrary, it's rare for AFSOC aviators, pararescueman and combat controllers to train unilaterally, said Colonel Schafer, chief of the AFSOC Commander's Action Group at Hurlburt Field.
Such jointness develops a common ground for tactics, techniques and procedures. That, in turn, he said, allows joint commanders the luxury of interchanging a special forces Soldier with a Navy SEAL for a special ops mission, and being able to choose among all three branches if helicopter support is needed to remove them from the battlefield. This was the intent when U.S. Special Operations Command was formed in 1987.
And even when the situation demands a joint maneuver never conducted before, the colonel said, the groundwork has been laid for a course of action based on prior working experience. For example, when Operation Desert Storm kicked off it was Air Force MH-53J Pave Low helicopters and their night vision capability that led Army Apache helicopters during a nighttime raid to take out Iraqi radar sites.
"We had never done that before, but we had the open mindset," Colonel Schafer said.
As a result of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, the special forces command improved its jointness with conventional forces, Colonel Schafer said. Traditionally, the battlefield was sectored off: One section for special operations and another for conventional forces. However, he said, improved technology allows a more common ground and the ability for AFSOC to provide better support for Marines and Soldiers with its special ops gun ships and helicopters.
But good things don't always come quickly or easily. In the special ops world, the "crawl, walk, run" method is used when joint forces start a new way of doing business, Colonel Schafer said, to ensure "we're all on the same sheet of music." He said a similar approach would probably be advisable to others entering the joint force.
Joint doctrine historically calls for each service to treat its own wounded. But like the special ups world, the services have worked together to ensure only the best care, according to Betty Anne Mauger, chief, media, plans and programs, Office of the Air Force Surgeon General at Bulling Air Force Base. D.C.
"For example, a smaller facility of one service can, and will, transfer patients to a larger facility managed by a sister service in order to ensure the military member receives the best care possible," she said.
Also, the Joint Readiness Clinical Advisory Board promotes the use of interoperable equipment and has developed a common user database for equipment. supplies and other readiness elements. This reduces logistical requirements, shortens training and lowers costs.
The medical community is considering forming core medical and surgical teams in each service with identical equipment and capabilities. On service may be responsible for first-response care, while an-other handles theater hospital and trauma center requirements. Training that emphasizes jointness may also be on the horizon.
Space and beyond
From Desert Storm to recent operations in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom, military operations depend increasingly on space capabilities. Many space systems critical to the warfighter fall largely within the area of space force, which plays a supporting role with communications, positioning and timing, missile warning and environment monitoring.
Space and missile capabilities allow combatant commanders to "shorten the kill chain." Flowing through Air Force space forces, key information is sent directly to the battlefield, providing location data to Global Positioning System receivers in tanks, messages to hardened portable computers with the troops and satellite images to weather stations set up on the front lines.
Navy and Marines, too
When Air Force F-117s launched the first air strike on Iraq in March 2003, they had assistance from the Navy. Three Navy EA-6B Prowler reconnaissance aircraft linked up with Night Hawks at a refueling aircraft. They went along to keep an eye out for Air Force pilots flying the strike mission.
It wasn't the first time the Navy and Air Force teamed to launch a major attack. Since Jimmy Doolittle launched an armada of B-25 bombers from the decks of a Navy aircraft carrier, the two services have strived to work hand-in-hand to control the skies and the seas.
Most of the obvious joint Navy-Marine-Air Force action is occurring in the training arena. At Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, for example, a joint-service cadre of navigation instructors put the services' would-be navigators through the same training missions to prepare them for the day when they get in the cockpit.
Airmen attend Naval War College or train with counterparts on ships at sea and at various air stations and bases. From firefighting to public affairs and other skills, Airmen sit side-by-side with Sailors in training environments.
But the two services have also teamed up on operational issues. Tactical radios, unmanned aerial vehicles and joint direct attack munitions are all examples of warfighting programs where the two services have reduced redundancies by sharing knowledge and skills and working together.
It may seem new to many Airmen, Marines, Sailors and Soldiers, but the renewed drive toward working together on and off the battlefield has a rich history--one that will surely carry into the future.
--Contributing writers: Master Sgt. Charles Roberts and Tech. Sgt. Mark Kinkade
RELATED ARTICLE: Crossing into the green: for these two Airmen, being a good soldier helped them stay alive.
by Tech. Sgt. Orville F. Desjarlais Jr.
More and more Airmen are finding themselves training for convoy duty, deploying to Iraq and making mad dashes from point A to point B while under the watchful eye of the enemy. It's dangerous duty.
During a convoy, Staff Sgt. Amelia Grahn was thrown headfirst through the windshield of her five-ton cargo truck after it smashed into the vehicle in front following an explosion on the streets of Iraq.
Capt. John Blocher, an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot from Pope Air Force Base, S.C., found himself face to face with the enemy, staying alive only by pulling the trigger of an M-4 carbine quicker than the enemy.
Sergeant Grahn and Captain Blocher gained a different perspective of the war in Iraq. It wasn't from an airplane, or hundreds of miles away on an Air Force base. It was from the front lines and it's a view they'll never forget.
After Sergeant Grahn received convoy training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., she followed up with training in Kuwait. She learned to fire an M-4 carbine and received combat simulator training. She drilled in weapons tactics and maneuvers, Global Positioning System navigation and troop-leading procedures.
Armed with a head full of knowledge, she deployed to provide security for Army convoys in Iraq--once a job reserved only for security forces. One day in May, she was forced to use all she had learned.
"We were told we couldn't drive on our regular route, so we had to take an alternate road," the sergeant from Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, said.
While the convoy weaved its way through the narrow streets of a small town, an improvised explosive devise exploded. Her truck rear-ended the vehicle in front of hers and she flew through the windshield, smashing her knees against the dashboard.
"While the guy manning the M-60 checked on our injured driver, I was asked to man the M-60, which I did until the situation stabilized," she said.
She dislocated both knee caps and her legs swelled so much she was evacuated to Germany until the swelling subsided. The Air Force took her off convoy duty and tasked her to become an Army dispatcher, which she did until she returned home in August, after having spent 188 days in Iraq.
Living with the Army
Captain Blocher was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division as a battalion air liaison officer--a job that demonstrates joint-service cooperation.
"I try to figure out how the Air Force and Army can integrate on the battlefield so the Air Force can blow stuff up and the Army won't blow up the Air Force, and vice versa," the A-10 pilot said.
The captain was in charge of two enlisted terminal attack controllers and an inexperienced ROMAD--reconnaissance, observation, mark and destroy, or from Vietnam: radio operator, maintainer and driver. This theater air control party, known as TACP, call in close air support for the 300 to 1,000 Soldiers that compose a battalion. Captain Blocher was the air liaison to senior Army staff and assisted in coordinating close air support. The captain fought alongside the Army from March 20 to April 16. Those 27 days changed his life forever.
"During the first few days with the battalion, we had a difficult time explaining what we brought to the war. That is, until the first battle when we blew up a bunch of stuff," he said.
Although each day was memorable, the one that sticks out in his mind the most was when the battalion's mission was to secure a bridge close to Baghdad.
"About 40 clicks [kilometers, 25 miles] from our objective, we started taking on a lot of fire. We were taking so much fire I couldn't stick my head out of the turret to see the aircraft I was calling in. An F-14 pilot who was also trained as a forward air controller had to take care of the air traffic from the air while I controlled artillery," he said.
Once they got to the bridge, they dug in and the captain started controlling more aircraft as they showed up to help. Then, his company commander asked the Air Force for help.
"They were low on gas and ammo, and they were taking on tank fire and couldn't see where it was coming from. That's when two A-10s showed up: one was my squadron operations commander and the other was my flight commander."
After 35 minutes, the A-10s had destroyed the tanks. The company commander was properly impressed. But not as impressed as the captain.
"I'm different now," he said. "I have a new respect for the Army and their complete-the-mission attitude. About 90 percent of the Air Force doesn't see combat. The closest they'll get is a neighboring country. Every dude in the Army gets his fingers in it.
"Everything--from seeing how you reacted under fire and how it felt to have an Iraqi point his AK at you and you pointed your M-4 at him and you lived because you were quicker--affects you," he said. "I will have those memories for the rest of my life. Some good, some bad."
It'll also be difficult for Sergeant Grahn to forget her experience--her wounds won't allow it. Pain still throbs in her knees. But she wouldn't trade her experience with the Army for anything.
"At first, I didn't like working with them. We butted heads with the Army a lot," she said. "But after time, we got along well. They earned a new appreciation for the Air Force and we had a great relationship. Convoy duty brought our services closer together."
For the protector of convoys and the Army liaison officer, Iraq was more than just another war fought from the sidelines. They were in the war, and they'll never forget it.