USO Celebrities Visit Joint Operations Center
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
SOUTHWEST ASIA, April 18, 2012 The tables turned today as the USO's spring tour celebrities got a taste of combined military operations during a visit to a joint operations center here.
Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, introduces celebrities on the USO spring tour as they visit troops in Southwest Asia, April 17, 2012. Several thousand U.S. troops and coalition partners listened as the celebrities spoke, sang and took photos with fans. DOD photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Chuck Marsh
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Navy Vice Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is serving as military host for the tour for comedian and actor Anthony Anderson; retired Major League Baseball pitcher Randy “The Big Unit” Johnson; actor Jason “Wee-Man” Acuna; actor and pitchman Dennis Haysbert; Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders Allyson Traylor, Brittany Evans and Kelsi Reich; and former “American Idol” contestants Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young.
The celebrities toured U.S. Air Forces Central's Combined Air and Space Operations Center. The CAOC is responsible for command and control of all air operations in the U.S. Central Command area of operations, said Air Force Col. Dave Iverson, 609th Air and Space Operations Center commander, providing 24/7 air coverage and conducting counterterrorism operations 365 days a year.
The CAOC is a joint and coalition team, staffed by the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps and coalition partners since becoming fully operational on Feb. 18, 2003.
“We work with Canadians, Australians, the British and our other coalition partners in addition to every branch of service,” Iverson noted.
Serving as host for the USO celebrities’ tour of the facility, Iverson explained the CAOC’s mission and operational capabilities.
A majority of the CAOC's operations occur in Afghanistan’s southern and eastern border regions, Iverson said. Troops in enemy contact can have air support in seven to eight minutes, he added.
Air mobility is another major mission, whether it’s moving cargo or airdropping supplies for special operations forces, who often are in locations difficult to get to by road or with no airfields nearby, Iverson said.
Other CAOC functional areas include cells for personnel recovery, offensive and defensive operations and space, he explained.
Following the short tour and photo opportunities with the service members in the CAOC, some of the celebrities shared their thoughts of the tour.
“I felt like a third-grader trapped on a school tour,” Anderson joked. “But I understand why they can't have classified and top secret stuff on the screens while I'm in there. It was informative, and I understand [the privacy was] for national security reasons and whatnot. The center was what I pictured it to be -- minus the classified information that was going to be on the screen. I really wanted to see what was going on.”
After calling the tour an “amazing” experience, the comedian couldn’t resist another joke.
“I wanted to watch a Super Bowl or NBA Finals game on one of those [big] screens,” he said. “Overall, great experience just to see how an operation works like that from the inside out.”
The tour also showed him that Hollywood portrayals of military operations centers can be fairly accurate, he said. “[It was] definitely what I thought it would be from watching movies, being a part of movies in situations like that,” he said. “It was like, 'OK, what we've done on film is pretty accurate to what really goes on inside a command center like that.”
Johnson, who has been on multiple USO tours and visited other operations centers, was also impressed by the CAOC.
“It was obviously very intense to see the maps and big-screen videos and probably stuff that you can't talk about too much,” he said. “But I felt very privileged to be able to see the stuff behind the scenes. There's so much technology going on, and I just feel honored and privileged to be here, and hopefully, we encouraged and lightened up the moment and the day for some people.”