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11th AF commander: Priorities and intent

  • Published
  • By Lt. Gen. Russell Handy
  • Commander, Alaskan Command, Joint Task Force-Alaska, Alaskan NORAD Region, 11th Air Force
First, I want to say what an incredible privilege it is for JoAnn and me to continue our service here where our homeland joins the Pacific, among many friends and in a place so important to our nation's future. While the current fiscal environment makes traveling to the unique locales you call home difficult, the jobs each of you do every day are extremely important. I would be remiss if I failed to reach out and take minute to explain the intent and priorities for my command so you are set up for success in accomplishing your mission.

My job is to clearly articulate expectations, give you the tools you need to accomplish your mission, and then listen when you tell me how we can do things better. Part of this obligation our commanders and I have to you is to ensure you understand our intent and priorities, along with how you fit into the big picture...one or two steps up your chain of command. Armed with a solid grasp of your context and your commander's intent and priorities, I'm convinced you'll be more effective at your job, and that's where I need your focus.

Each of your units has a mission statement and I hold you accountable for knowing and understanding it. On a broader scale, I want you to examine how you fit into the overall theater strategy. Your Combined Headquarters team located at JBER wears many hats in our efforts to support you as you accomplish the multiple tasks on your plate. Each of these organizations has a separate role, reporting chain, and mission statement, and they can be confusing, so I'll try to simplify. Alaskan Command (ALCOM) is a subunified command under Pacific Command (USPACOM) and, in this capacity, I report to Admiral Locklear in Hawaii. Joint Task Force Alaska falls under Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) and Alaskan NORAD Region (ANR) falls under NORAD and for those "hats" I report to General Jacoby in Colorado. The 11th Air Force--comprised of five wings including three in Alaska, one in Guam, and one in Hawaii--is one of the Numbered Air Forces (NAFs) in Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), and I report to General Carlisle in Hawaii when I wear this "Service hat". With those command lines in mind, we boil down our roles into two broad categories: 1) DoD's "Executive Agent" for all things our joint forces do in Alaska and this portion of the Arctic in the broader context, and 2) Organize, train, equip and care for the resilient Airmen making up our five PACAF assigned wings and two direct-reporting groups.

1. Task one seems pretty broad...and it is. The best known and most visible components of this involve defending the region--air defense, all-domain awareness, synchronizing components for homeland defense, search and rescue, support of civil authorities, etc. Some are not as clearly defined, like our task to "operationalize the Arctic" in support of national interests. You can't turn on the news or read a paper without hearing about the polar ice cap and increased activity in or access to the Arctic. That translates into an increased challenge and responsibility for us in terms of security and capability. In the coming months and years, we will serve an increasingly prominent role working with our Federal, State, local and international partners in clarifying our vision of the Arctic, further defining roles and missions and enhancing our collective capabilities.

2. Our 11th Air Force team's role is all about supporting combatant commanders' mission requirements from all points of the Pacific's "Strategic Triangle", just like we do on a daily basis for NORAD/NORTHCOM, PACOM, CENTCOM, and others. Another significant focus area here is your contribution to enable and enhance the Pacific rebalance and the PACOM Commander's strategy. Your efforts to develop and refine joint and combined employment concepts and optimize the employment of our total force are absolutely critical to our ability to deter, dissuade, disrupt and ultimately--if required--defeat potential adversaries.

With this larger context in mind, here are a few of my priorities and keys to success:

- Full spectrum combat readiness. If what you are doing doesn't somehow relate to readiness to perform or support a primary military function--whether it's readiness to fight a full-spectrum conflict, defend the nation, perform search and rescue, conduct disaster relief or other missions--chances are it shouldn't take up a large portion of your focus and time. I want you to be alert to activities that detract from our readiness and focus on always being personally ready to execute your mission at home or deployed.

- Maximize strengths of joint force & total force integration. In Alaska, we live and work in one of the best joint 'laboratories' in the DoD. Your joint base successes and innovation/integration of joint training and readiness opportunities on the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex (JPARC) are legendary. You literally set the example for joint force synchronization. The foundation you have set is only the beginning--I know you will continue to be the benchmark for optimum training and employment of our joint force. Similarly, more than any time in our history, we need to get "Total Force" right. The advantages and opportunities of each Total Force component (Guard, Active, Reserve) continue to attract our nation's best and brightest. It is important for us to understand the challenges and restrictions of each of those components and work to integrate them into everything from what the combatant commanders expect us to be ready to do when...to executing the daily schedule. We have been executing as a total force in the Area of Responsibility (AOR) for over 23 years and we now need to apply those lessons learned to today's realities in our Total Force. We need to understand and embrace the fact that active duty and reserve component forces are not the same--they each bring their own unique set of strengths and limitations. It is important we look at this very carefully to ensure we build a total force construct that is effective and sustainable for the long term. All of this is up to you--where it is working, I expect you to make it better; where it isn't working, I expect you to highlight this to your chain of command. Transparency is the key here--I count on you to set THE example!

- Responsible employment of resources through innovation, creativity & proper prioritization.
The uncertainty we face with a third continuing resolution, a second sequester, and a recent government shutdown impede our ability to meet mission requirements and plan for the future. We are in uncharted territory. I'm not going to beat the same old drum and tell you to do more with less. What I will say is that I need each one of you to do the very best you can with what you've got. That means striving for innovative and creative solutions in accordance with the right priorities. In some areas, that may mean doing LESS with less, and I need you to find the things that we don't need to be doing. In many areas, this means refocusing our efforts to get the job done with maximum effectiveness and efficiency--being good stewards of taxpayer dollars, energy savings initiatives, responsible use of our training areas, and much more. What is encouraging is that I see this happening every day! Bright, energetic, courageous men and women in uniform, alongside their DoD civilian and contractor counterparts, never cease to amaze me with their innovative thought and creativity. That said, I am certain we will never have 100% of what we need to do the job as we feel it should be done. What this means is we need to prioritize. The tough but true fact of life is we all need to prioritize--one day at a time, you'll need to decide where you put your weight of effort. Just like the Joint Chiefs of Staff (albeit on a different level) or your commanders, you'll decide to put more effort into that "safety of flight" issue, or focus on that personnel task that could make a difference in the life of one of our warriors or their family. I'm just telling you--that will happen every day. Be ready for it. You'll make the right call.

- Treat ALL with dignity and respect. I trust this priority goes without extensive explanation. This is contagious. If you do it, so will your peers and so will your subordinates. If you act like a jerk, you'll train those around you to be jerks. Don't do this. Think about how you, or your spouse, or your kids, should be treated and treat everyone like that. Then, demand the same of all those who work for or with you. Your leadership expects nothing less...I expect nothing less. If we all did this, our sexual assault and sexual harassment problems would vanish. I suspect our suicidal ideations would drop as well, since we'd all be looking out for each other. You get my point. It's not easy and I understand that. It sometimes requires peers and supervisors to ask really hard questions and make really tough decisions. But as tough as it is, it is NOT complicated. If we think like a team, we'll be OK.

- Develop, retain and care for our professional warriors and their families. This is mostly a task for you commanders and supervisors, but a piece of it falls on the shoulders of every one of our service members. Despite the many challenges I've outlined here, we still manage to attract and retain very gifted people to fill the ranks. Beyond the basic need to have people sign up and wear the uniform, though, I want to make sure we're investing in our most valuable resource--people!--and developing them for the long run, both personally and professionally. We also need to take care of ourselves, each other, and our families. Make an effort to get to know the people you work with, spend time with them and their families, and be a good neighbor.

At the close of World War II, B.H. Liddell Hart concluded, "It should be the duty of every soldier to reflect on the experiences of the past in the endeavor to discover improvements, in his particular sphere of action, which are practical to the immediate future." You face incredible challenges and obstacles each and every day--I know that. As we strive to protect our great nation while simultaneously fighting the fiscal tide, we need courageous leadership at the national level coupled with expert advice, insight, and ideas from the men and women who serve--and that's where you come in! Don't sweat the 'small stuff'. Your immense talent, positive attitude, creativity and ingenuity will carry the day. Thanks again for what you do every day to protect America's interests!

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