The right capability for our nation.
General Cassidy, General (Paul V.) Hester (AFSOC Commander), former Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force (James C.) Binniker, distinguished guests, combat controllers, ladies and gentlemen, good evening. It is my great privilege and delight to be with you tonight to celebrate the Golden Anniversary of Combat Control. We gather to remember your origins, and to commemorate 50 years of Air Force Combat Control. Tonight, we celebrate the heritage of the "Scarlet Red Beret" and the elite warfighters who have delivered combat capability for our Air Force for the past half-century.
And what a capability you provide. You increasingly are the means for us to bring air and space power to bear on an enemy in the fog of combat. You are the intersection between the most awesome strike capability the world has ever known and those who thought they could take on the United States Air Force. You are our nation's Air Commandos, and the citizens of this vast land are very fortunate to have you manning their watchtowers of freedom.
I want to thank the Combat Control Association for inviting my lovely bride of 42 years to share in this celebration along with me. She knows better than anyone else how close and long-standing my affinity is for the brave Americans who devote their lives to the demands of special operations. You see, when I commanded a guided missile destroyer during my years in the Navy, my main propulsion assistant was a SEAL. Through his personal example, he taught me that our special operators are a unique national treasure. He served then, just as you do today--quietly and professionally, whether in peace or in war. And just as he did, you don't seek the limelight. Moki Martin and his wife, Cindy, are very special people to Diane and me. When the occasional spotlight shines on you--as you cross a remote desert or during your treks in the mountains of a far-off land--you slip back into the shadows, carrying on the tradition of the quiet professionals who have gone before you.
Some of those patriotic Americans--the original trailblazers of your business--are with us tonight. I am honored and consider it a personal privilege to break bread with the plank owners of Combat Control. You've heard their names tonight already. But I'd submit to you that we could never say their names enough, particularly in light of the dramatically distinguished service they've given to the Air Force and our nation.
* Chief Master Sergeant Al "Bull" Benini--a survivor of the Bataan Death March, and the first NCO in charge of a Combat Control team;
* Chief Master Sergeant Jim Howell, a "pathfinder" in every sense of the word, establishing in 1963 the upper limits of HALO (high altitude, low opening) operations when he jumped from over 43,000 feet. He is also widely recognized as the first person to eject from a supersonic jet in 1961--I know a lot of pilots today that would want to shake your hand for having the courage to blaze that path for them. There are others, of course, who think you must have been out of your mind to do what you did.
* We also have with us two other plank owners from that first team--Sony Sutton and James McElvain. Gentlemen, I salute you. And I salute your entire team.
As I was considering my remarks tonight, General Hester weighed-in with the kind of advice I relish getting from one of our major command Commanders. When General Hester called, he wanted to make sure I understood that my opportunity to speak to you will be on the fifth night of a six-day party, and that I should also take into account the fact that you deviated from typical protocol and scheduled a two-hour social hour in advance of our banquet tonight. He also pointed out that your reunion agenda includes "sleeping in" and that many of you will have had a pretty good time this week, not only at scheduled events, but also at some of those late night meetings in the Controller Board Room--the bar. But, I'll tell you the same thing I passed back to General Hester: "I'm not sure if that means I need to keep my remarks short or that I have a lot of catching up to do!"
Apart from the opportunity to celebrate your 50th Anniversary, there's another compelling reason that prompted Diane and me to attend this reunion. We are here tonight, on behalf of John and Ellen Jumper and ourselves to simply say: thank you. Thank you for your service. Thank you for the sacrifices you and your families endured--and some of you continue to endure--for this important mission for our country. And thank you for getting your mission done with the class and professionalism that have been your hallmark for 50 years.
Your heritage in the Army Air Corps and the Air Force is long and quite distinguished. Combat controllers were borne from the special needs of warfighters in our campaigns in Europe and the Pacific in World War II. From the "Combat Controller Teams" of Operation Varsity, and General "Hap" Arnold's "Air Commando Force" in the Pacific to the combat controllers who helped deliver victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the forces of Saddam in Iraq, combat controllers have fought, and, in some cases, died, in virtually every major operation or war over the past five decades. From Staff Sergeant Richard Foxx to Staff Sergeant Scott Sather, our combat controllers have sacrificed for this nation. For that, you and your colleagues have my highest admiration and deepest respect.
Your contributions in combat have been a foundation of our success for many years. They have enabled us to deliver on our commitment to bring air and space power to bear against our enemies, and to defend our homeland. They have allowed us to extend the vision of airpower advocates, creating decisive and compelling effects from air and space. They have validated our renewed focus on joint operations and integration with ground forces, allowing us to create anew the historic era of cooperation between air and ground forces that produced the breakout of Normandy and the race across France. You made the dream John Jumper and I had a reality. Generals Patton, Bradley, Arnold and Quesada would be very proud indeed of how well we integrate our air and land forces today. We have demonstrated to the world the professionalism, competence, and incredible skill of airmen--particularly our combat controllers--airmen steeped in the warrior ethos and prepared to sacrifice their lives serving a cause greater than self. Simply put, we win in conflict because of the "First There, Last Out" combat controllers.
New era of asymmetric threats
But while you have much to be proud of over the past 50 years, we must also recognize that the world is quite different today in the 21st century than the century of world wars and cold wars we've left behind. We have new enemies who employ different tactics--much different even than the conventional battles we've fought since the end of the first Gulf War. The new threat of terrorism is real, it is persistent, it is aimed at us, and it is global.
It demands that we be prepared to fight by employing all of the elements of our nation's power. And it demands that we continue to develop professional airmen, equip them with the best warfighting capabilities, and integrate them into the joint fight so as to best capitalize on the potent attributes
of air and space power. The way ahead for the combat control career field is no different. I am thrilled at your doctrinal and operational agility. You have set the transformational pace for the rest of our Air Force. Please, keep up the pace!
We need to continue to invest in the kind of training, assignments and experiences that allow us to produce professional combat controllers who have amazed the world by calling dangerously close CAS (close air support) missions from various Air Force and Navy aircraft, including B-52s flying at 39,000 feet, and who raised again the Stars and Stripes over the American Embassy in Kabul.
We must continue to give combat controllers the tools and technology they need to get the job done. That's why General Jumper and I chartered Alan Yoshida to lead a team to cut through the bureaucracy of the acquisition process to create a Battlefield Air Operations kit for his colleagues. We enjoy telling audiences around the Air Force how our pilots and aircrews work for our sergeants on the ground, and how the officers in the acquisition business are working for a sergeant as well. This speaks wonders of our Air Force culture.
And the work Alan and his team are doing is wonderful. He's well on his way to producing a kit that is 70 percent lighter, with leading-edge power sources, but one that will increase the combat capability of our controllers. The battle management system he is developing and testing will improve communications, reduce engagement times, and increase the survivability of our teams. And much of what he's developing is based on the good ideas from his peers--airmen like him who have been in the line of fire, and understand what a combat controller needs to fight, survive, and win in combat. I'm also proud of how my former colleagues--the top executives of the leading defense electronics firms in the U.S.--have cooperated with Alan.
In addition to training and technology improvements, we must also continue to adapt our doctrine to ensure that the remarkable effects combat controllers produce are developed to their fullest potential. We must capitalize on your achievements in Afghanistan and Iraq--accomplishments that remove any doubt about the tremendous value of special tactics teams and combat controllers.
You are helping us enhance the culture of the Air Force. We frequently tout the high number of expeditionary bases we opened in the region during operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. What most people don't know is that combat controllers were the brave airmen who made this happen. In Iraq, combat controllers surveyed and opened 25 airfields and landing zones. In Afghanistan, the number was 21. Operationally, this was a key aspect of our effort to open a southern front against the Taliban. More significant, these efforts are accelerating our understanding of the challenges imposed on our airmen and our Air Force by a demanding expeditionary setting.
The success of our global mobility forces in theater is, in large part, due to our combat controllers as well. We frequently advertise the flexibility of our mobility forces and the innovation that produced new units such as our Contingency Response Groups--part of the team that jumped into northern Iraq with the Army's 173d Airborne Brigade. But, what most people fail to realize is that combat controllers were on the ground for four days before the much publicized and historic combat jump, again reminding us that airmen on the ground can and do make major contributions to a combatant commander's objectives, separate and distinct from airmen in the air.
Of the over 70,000 sorties to date during OIF, more than 43,000 have been mobility sorties, many of them enabled by combat controllers finding places for airplanes--and helicopters--to land, or controlling those aircraft in the airspace over their landing zones and airfields.
The success of our operations in Western Iraq has largely gone untold also--principally because of security concerns. What we can say though is this: this conflict was a coming-out party for Special Operations Forces. In Iraq--and in Afghanistan--they controlled large areas with limited forces: timely, accurate and relevant ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance); and the strength of rapid, precise airpower. They were a light, yet lethal mobile force, and were truly joint in how they operated.
For those of you familiar with the campaign in Iraq, you'll also note we didn't set up a Joint Special Operations Task Force that went out and did things on its own. Instead, special operators were integrated into the theater commanders' campaign plan as an independent, supported maneuver element. Strategic, operational and tactical objectives were linked to their operations--and they performed brilliantly. I only wish we could tell more of their story. In time, I'm sure we will.
As we think about how to meet Secretary Rumsfeld's challenge to adapt our armed forces to make them more flexible and responsive to the world in which we find ourselves, we would be well suited in the Air Force to consider these examples, and to look to you--the combat control professionals--to capture those lessons you have already learned through 50 years of evolution and adaptation.
AFSOC has always been expeditionary in nature, and its airmen have always understood the importance of jointness. Combat controllers have exacting training standards--with warriors training warriors-- and a culture that values empowerment but accepts nothing less than excellence from all of its practitioners. These are traits from which every airman in our service could benefit.
If there is one thing that General Jumper and I understand, it is that we cannot dictate transformation through edict or a budget. Rather, it is about changing the way people think, and taking old things and using them in new ways. We won't, nor should we, mass-produce special operations. But the test of the Air Force can learn a lot about how to prepare for the threats of this era by adopting the mindset, adaptive training standards, and high expectations combat controllers have for those who wear the Scarlet Red Beret.
Finally, as we continue to evolve the Combat Control field to meet the demands of the next 50 years, we should be looking at even further adaptations. For example, it might be useful for you to develop further your advance air power operations in support of the Air Component Commander. What you currently do for the Joint Special Ops commander, you can and should do for the air boss as well, supporting his strike, reconnaissance, target identification and interdiction missions, as well as battle damage assessment. Your training, capabilities, and talent make you uniquely suited to conduct these types of operations--and if they make our "awesome" striking power even more precise, timely, and effective, then we should not hesitate in moving out in fulfilling these objectives.
Ladies and gentlemen, as we celebrate this golden anniversary tonight, I ask you to remember that your colleagues are as busy now as they have been at any time in the history of your field. They likely will remain so for many years to come. As long as the grievous threat of terrorism to our way of life exists, we will need your service, your sacrifice, and your skill to defeat those who seek our destruction.
As I close tonight, I'm reminded of the words of Winston Churchill who rallied his nation in another era of discord and global anxiety. Speaking on the onset of World War II, he said:
"You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might, and with all the strength God has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark ... catalogue of human history. "
That was Britain's policy in the war against Nazism. It was the mindset that launched the first combat controllers into France in 1944. And it reflects our nation's policy as we continue our war on global terrorism today.
And just as Sir Winston inspired his people to fight with the might of his entire nation, so too must we--if we are to prevail in this first world war of the 21st century.
For the past 50 years, combat controllers have answered their call to duty. And if the achievements of the past half-century are any indication, your successors will continue to do so for many generations to come, with the same dedication, determination, and esprit that are your hallmarks.
You have my deepest gratitude for your loyal and honorable service to this great nation. I wish you and your families the best in the years to come. Thank you and may God bless each of you and this America He gave to us.
Dr. James G. Roche, secretary of the Air Force
Remarks at the Combat Controller 50th Anniversary Reunion, Fort Walton Beach, Fla., Sept. 27, 2003
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|Title Annotation:||Air Force secretary James G. Roche|
|Publication:||Air Force Speeches|
|Date:||Sep 27, 2003|
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