Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Commander discusses challenges facing new AEW
Brigadier Gen. Guy Walsh, 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Commander. (Photo by Colin Kelley) Hi-res
By Erik Holmes, Staff writer
Air Force Times
posted: August 19, 2009, 18:10:26 EDT
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Brig. Gen. Guy Walsh is the first commander of a new air expeditionary wing in the busiest theater of the Afghanistan war.
There are about 1,400 airmen under the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing and the wing is just one of many tenant units at the massive NATO-run base at Kandahar Air Field.
Walsh, a career A-10 pilot, is charged with running wing operations and coordinating with the other NATO allies. He most recently served as commander of the 175th Wing of the Maryland Air National Guard.
He spoke Aug. 11 with Air Force Times.
Q. HOW IS AIR POWER RELEVANT IN AFGHANISTAN?
A. Take a look at the road system you have in Afghanistan … very little. The ability to move stuff … is very limited. To expand our role in Afghanistan … the only way to really get those supplies and everything necessary in … is air power. The other piece obviously … is this casualty evacuation and medevac. The idea of having to transport … coalition forces, U.S. forces or Afghan civilians … in under 50 minutes right now, that happens because of air power.
The bottom line is we’re in a support role. The war fighter that needs the help is that staff sergeant and corporal and our coalition partners on the ground, and our whole job really is to support that operation.
Q. HOW MUCH GROWTH HAS THE WING EXPERIENCED, AND DO YOU SEE IT CONTINUING?
A. We’ve more than doubled in size from what this organization was as a group to going to a wing. When it was a group, it didn’t have the support it needed, the infrastructure and those type pieces. Now that we’ve expanded the missions to seven different airframes … that’s required a fairly large influx. We have stabilized at least for now because there just isn’t much room at the inn.
Q. WHAT IS IT LIKE TO WORK AS A TENANT AT A COALITION BASE?
A. It obviously takes a little bit longer. We’re still developing processes between … the owner of the airfield, between ISAF [International Security Assistance Force], who has a large piece of the organization … and then our role here. I will also tell you it’s very rewarding … This is not an American operation. This is truly a NATO [mission] with 41 different countries pitching in and making this happen for the Afghan people. So despite the fact that it takes longer … I think the end results are that much more rewarding.
Q. HOW HAVE NEW, MORE RESTRICTIVE RULES FOR AIR STRIKES AFFECTED YOUR WING?
A. The positive identification of friendly forces and enemy forces is absolutely huge in the close air support mission. We make sure … that when we’re doing those close air support operations, that we know where every friendly, every civilian and where all those pieces are. The nice thing about … the A-10C … is we have new capabilities to do that. It’s a combination of [using] binoculars, targeting pods and very close coordination with the ground. … It takes a little bit more time, but undoubtedly it’s the right thing to do because the objective here is not about killing terrorists. It’s about freedom of movement and being able to build a sense of trust with the Afghan people.
Q. WHAT ARE THE ALMOST SIGNIFICANT LIMITATIONS OR CHALLENGES YOUR FACE?
A. Right now, the challenge obviously at Kandahar … is the heat and the temperature and the dust. … It takes a while to acclimatize, and … it takes its toll on the equipment. … The other part is we have folks who are trying to get things done in the [civil engineering] area, and there’s not a lot of ground routes for being able to get [building materials] onto the base. … That’s a big thing that we tackle every day — being able to get the equipment and resources that we need.
Q. BOTH THE C-130Js AND A-10Cs ARE RELATIVELY NEW TO KANDAHAR? HOW HAVE THEY AFFECTED YOUR OPERATIONS?
A. Let me go with the C-130J first. Extremely capable airplane … in terms of handling the environment over here. We’ve had fairly good reliability rates with the airplane, and the crews are able to do [amazing] things with the airdrop missions … and the short-field landings.
[With the A-10C], we really find that we’re able to give eyes and ears to the ground commander to give him so much more awareness of what’s happening … from that view in the sky. … I’ve been able to support French, British, Australian, Romanian, across the board, as well as quite a bit of support to the Marines. … The feedback we get on the radios from the guy on the ground … to me is one of the most important parts of the mission.
That’s without dropping a weapon. … Just being their eyes and ears.
Q. WE DON'T THINK ABOUT AIRCRAFT BEING SHOT DOWN IN AFGHANISTAN: HOW SIGNIFICANT ARE THE THREATS?
A. My concern about airplanes is always more about the system itself — the environment and those types of things as far as losing an engine. To me that’s the biggest threat. … We spend time talking about whether there’s a surface-to-air threat … but that’s not typically where we lose airplanes. … I’ll also tell you that [with] our tactics, our crews are able to get the mission done without overexposing themselves.
Q. WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT THIS ASSIGNMENT?
A. The opportunity to stand up a wing and be the first wing commander of the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing is one of those things you could have never even dreamed of. … Especially having come out the National Guard and being one of the first wing commanders in a combat zone from the Air National Guard, it’s one of those privileges you could have never even expected. … My favorite part of this job and going down and talking to these airmen, seeing what they do and the pride they take in their work. … I love flying, but to be able to go out and meet these airmen … that makes your day.
First A-10Cs at Kandahar