Nature of War Makes Airlift Essential, General Says
By Capt. Travis Tougaw, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Mar. 16, 2007 Airlift is essential to success in the war in Afghanistan, the commander of U.S. Transportation Command said here March 14.
Air Force Gen. Norton A. Schwartz visited Bagram to observe and speak about the airlift mission being performed throughout Afghanistan.
As the single manager for global air, land, and sea transportation for the Defense Department, Schwartz said he’s familiar with the partnerships exhibited here among the U.S. services and coalition forces. "The team at Bagram is, in fact, a joint team," he said. "People appreciate what each other do and try to provide mutual support. Teamwork is evident, and it's very satisfying to see people committed to the mission."
Bases in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Europe and the United States make up the airlift team for Operation Enduring Freedom.
"My impression is that the team is effectively supporting the folks that need it -- the shooters," Schwartz said. "It is clear that there's a sense of urgency here. It is clear that people are engaged. They feel passionately about the mission. And as a guy who's seven or eight thousand miles away, to see it personally is very satisfying."
The nature of the war in Afghanistan requires successful airlift, Schwartz said.
"This kind of fight cannot be effectively prosecuted from main operating bases. It's a distributed fight, and that requires us to be able to sustain those forces while they're the deployed," he said. "It is absolutely clear that we're doing that with considerable effect."
In addition to delivering troops, food, water, ammunition, and other supplies to the field, the airlift assets here are also called upon to move injured personnel.
"Medevac is what I call the quiet mission, because it does not get that much attention unless the people who are being evacuated are very prominent like Bob Woodruff from ABC News last year," Schwartz said. "But the truth of the matter is, the treatment that Mr. Woodruff received is exactly the same as what our troops get."
The medical evacuation system underwrites the all-volunteer force, the general said.
“Our youngsters know that if they get banged up, we'll leave no stone unturned to return them as quickly as possible to the best medical care, and that is what we do. In my view, that's how you sustain an all-volunteer force."
Using the C-17 Globemaster III for aeromedical evacuation greatly enhances the care given to the patients, the general said, because that platform has power, lighting, oxygen and other tools available for patient treatment.
That kind of versatility will be a key feature in new airlift platforms the Air Force develops, Schwartz said. He used the KC-X, the next generation of tanker, as an example. The KC-X will "certainly be a tanker first, but will have passenger, cargo, and air-evac capability designed in from the beginning rather than as an afterthought," he said.
Military commanders of the 21st century shouldn’t have to rely on aging aircraft designed and built for 20th century wars, Schwartz said.
"Future commanders will have modern platforms that operate with much higher reliability and that will be very versatile,” he said. “I think people understand that aging airplanes are an issue. The battles that we're fighting and likely to fight for the next few years are distributed fights that need airlift more than ever."
(Air Force Capt. Travis Tougaw is assigned to 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs.)