The Right Capability for our Nation
The Right Capability for Our Nation
Dr. James G. Roche,
secretary of the Air Force Remarks at the Combat Controller 50th
Anniversary Reunion, Fort Walton Beach, Fla., Sept. 27, 2003.
Source: US Air Force Link.
Thank you Wayne for your kind words (Chief Master Sergeant (retired)
Wayne Norrad, former Air Force Special Operations Command Chief).
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
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
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
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
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
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
rest 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
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.