SOUTHWEST ASIA -- The U.S. Air Forces Central command chief has a good perspective on the lives of the Airmen serving in support of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom after more than 21 months on the job.
A younger generation of Airmen is adapting to an ever-changing operating environment, gaining experience and perspective that bodes well for the future of the Air Force, Chief Master Sgt. Scott Dearduff said.
As they do, all they're asking for is connectivity and assurance the Air Force is looking out for loved ones back home, he said.
"The most impressive thing about Airmen serving today is their adaptability," the chief said. "It's clear to see since the beginning of operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. We had the mentality early on that we came in as Airmen, we're going to be Airmen, we're going to fly airplanes and do all the support things that go with flying airplanes. Over a period of years we realized that's what we did well so that's what we'd continue to do."
As operations in Iraq and Afghanistan continued, Airmen started getting tasked more often to support Army operations.
"We were asked to step into in-lieu-of taskings, now (called) joint expeditionary taskings. Over the last couple years we've really got the structure in place. We put Airmen in these taskings, give them the right training and equipment and get them where they need to be. Once there, they understand the need for adaptability and flexibility. We have Airmen now who clearly see the difference and say, 'OK, I understand I'm doing my primary mission but I have to do these three things to be part of the primary unit.'AC/AC/"
The ability to adapt and successfully operate in a joint environment shows Chief Dearduff that the Air Force will be in good hands when his generation of non-commissioned offiers leave.
"I freely share with my peer group that we're pretty good right now, but the junior NCOs right now that are coming up behind us are going to be so much better," he said. "They're going to have experience in the joint arena that we didn't have the opportunity to experience. Because of the number of deployments they know a whole lot about our sister services. They understand there is a difference in cultures. When we leave, we're going to leave behind a much better force."
While Airmen adapt to the changing deployed environment, the Air Force is also adapting to the changing needs of Airmen, Dearduff said.
"It used to be that when an Airman would go into a deployed environment there were a couple things they were looking for right away," he said. "First, they would look for the guys with food and lodging. Once you got that squared away you were looking to CE for materials and power all those things."
Today what's most critical is communications.
"They can go with lesser quality food or cramped sleeping quarters as long as they can communicate with their families. We have a generation of Airmen who want to reach out and communicate with family and friends instantly. And nothing changes when they join the Air Force, go to basic training, report to their base and deploy to the (area of responsibility)."
Communications directly translates into the battlefield, he added.
"Whether it's an air- or groundbased mission, the three things that are most important to us are shoot, maneuver and communicate," he said. "Take a Senior Airman, a truck commander, on a line haul mission. When this individual mounts up and is ready to go, he or she has a radio system where they can communicate with their team, at the flip of a switch, communicate with their convoy and has a blue force tracker or other communications device to reach back to their unit."
For all they do on the battlefield, all Airmen are asking for is that the Air Force looks out for their loved ones back home, Dearduff said.
"They want to make sure family is taken care of when they're gone," he said. "The Air Force has great programs in place; however, I don't get the sense from our deployed Airmen that they are confident that the leadership at the squadron level, maybe flight level or sometimes even down at the section level is really doing their part to take care of those families. If they're not focusing 100 percent on their deployed mission it affects the mission."
"I think our Air Force structurally in some places is missing the mark on key spouse program," he added. "But our chief master sergeant of the Air Force and his spouse are taking on the key spouse program as a high interest item and I applaud them for that. Most Airmen don't mind going on their third, fourth or fifth deployment as long as they know you're going to take care of their family while they're gone."
Chief Dearduff also said he believes every Airmen needs to understand how critical they are to the mission.
"On a trip to the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing I asked a vehicle maintenance Airman what he did," the chief said. "His response was 'I fix trucks.' I asked if he thought it was important, he said, 'Yes.' Then I asked him why. We went back and forth and he was able to walk me from how his fixing a truck impacted getting bombs on target. If every Airman knows how they fit into the mission, how they contribute, we will be very successful."