'Field Trip' Gives Wolfowitz First-Hand Look at Forces in Action
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 3, 2002 "Remember, sir," an Air Force weapons specialist told Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, "without weapons, an F-15 is a single-seat airline." Another airman added, "If you ever need air supremacy, sir, give us a call."
Wolfowitz got a feel for the esprit de corps of the service members who fly and maintain the nation's war birds Aug. 2 when he visited Langley Air Force Base, Va. He also toured what he called a "truly transformational" intelligence center there, the 30th Intelligence Squadron's Distributed Common Ground System.
Intelligence officers escort Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz (left) during a visit to the 30th Intelligence Squadron's Distributed Common Ground System at Langley Air Force Base, Va., Aug. 2, 2002. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
At a nearby Joint Forces Command facility in Suffolk, Va., the deputy got a glimpse of the future when he toured the Millennium Challenge 2002 exercise, the largest joint experiment in U.S. history. More than 13,500 troops from all services are taking part in the experiment, which features the largest computer simulation "federation" ever put together.
Troop visits such as these are important in more ways than one, Wolfowitz said about his daylong field trip. "It's encouraging for me to hear people say that it's important to the troops," he said. "I don't know if that's true or not. I hope it is because I know it also puts an extra burden on them.
"If it's a way of letting people know how much we appreciate their work," the deputy added, "then that's the most important thing we can do. But it's also very valuable to me to get a first-hand feel of what they're doing out there."
At the 1st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Wolfowitz met with some of the inspection and maintenance specialists who work on the F-15s based at Langley, headquarters for the Air Combat Command.
"Every 200 flying hours we bring in the aircraft and tear them apart," said Master Sgt. Ruth Helms, a 20-year maintenance-crew veteran. "We do three inspections to ensure the flight safety of the fleet. Then we do a final shakedown to look for anything we may have missed."
Even though technology keeps changing, Wolfowitz later noted, "there's still the old-fashioned work of keeping airplanes flying."
"It basically amounts to that wonderful American skill of teen-agers who work on automobiles," he said, "except they're a little older, and they're working on things a lot more expensive, and they're working incredibly hard."
The deputy said he was strongly impressed by how much harder service members have had to work since Sept. 11. And by how much harder they're working because of the age of the weapon systems they're working on.
"It's a huge challenge," he said, "and it's inspiring to see how they seem to be rising to the challenge. Morale is -- as best you can judge it by a quick, supervised tour -- seems to be very good."
At Joint Forces Command, Wolfowitz turned to the future of warfare. He said the Millennium Challenge experiment involves "a lot of fancy technology in the communications area and networking people and giving a very large and dispersed organization a common operational picture."
"We're just beginning to get an idea how that transforms the way in which we can fight and the speed with which we can make decisions," he aid.
The experiment has already demonstrated a dramatic increase in the speed a plan can be put together and a situation assessed, he said. "Decision-making speed is a key to victory in war."
The experiment is what transformation is all about, Wolfowitz concluded. "It's 90 percent people -- the way they think and the way they organize. It's certainly not about (weapon) platforms."
Millennium Challenge is going to have "a big affect on how the military goes forward," he said. "I'm very encouraged. I think they've put a lot of imagination into it. It's a real step forward and a real step in the direction of jointness."
Jointness has been one of the Defense Department's major themes for the last 15 years or so, he noted. "In a way, we got to 'jointness' before the information revolution struck. But the information revolution has made the potential and the necessity for jointness orders of magnitude more important."
That was evident at Millennium Challenge, according to the deputy, who said he was very encouraged that Army Gen. William F. "Buck" Kernan, head of Joint Forces Command, and his people had stepped into the undertaking "with so much imagination and energy."
"One of the things I like about Gen. Kernan's leadership is he clearly has empowered his subordinates to take hold of things," Wolfowitz said. "It's the only way you could make something like this work. We got very good briefings from senior NCOs and lieutenant colonels, and it wasn't all canned. It was very good."