Northwest Military Blogs: McChord Flightline Chatter

January 22, 2016 at 7:23am

AMC - 24 years later

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For more than two decades, the U.S. Air Force's Air Mobility Command (AMC) has been the logistical powerhouse that allows American troops to respond to crises around the world.

"The mission of Air Mobility Command pretty simply is to provide global reach for America" explained Col. Michael Zick, deputy director of operations at AMC's headquarters on Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.

Terry Johnson, a civilian and Gulf War veteran who works as AMC's director of staff for operations, called AMC "the world's largest airline."

The Air Force's experience during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991 was a major factor that led to AMC's creation just a year later. This year marks the 25th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm. Today, as U.S. troops once again operate in Iraq, many are looking back at how that conflict changed how we fight.

Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait shocked the world and prompted a swift - and massive - international reaction. The U.S. Air Force was critical to the initial response.

"Our expertise is to get over there as quickly as possible, so we basically brought the initial forces over there to actually hold while we brought the preponderance of the heavy force over by sealift," said Zick.

"(Air mobility) allowed us to put enough stopping power on the ground to hold the Iraqi forces at bay until the remainder of U.S. and coalition forces arrived," added Johnson.

"Back then, we probably were thinking we had a little bit more time to react to certain events," Zick said. "What we learned from that was ‘no, we need to be ready anywhere' to actually bring America's forces to the point of need."

Experiences in Desert Storm led to several changes in the way airmen approach these logistical operations.

"We've expanded the use of night vision goggles, airdrop, we're more effectively able to integrate with other combatant commands, (and) we've looked to increase our battlespace awareness through the use of more secure communications, tactical data links, etc.," Johnson explained.

Air Mobility Command was established on June 1, 1992. It melded a worldwide airlift system from elements of the inactivated Military Airlift Command with a tanker force Strategic Air Command that had been freed from its strategic nuclear strike commitments by the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Though the Cold War was over, the demands on the Air Force were far from reduced. Between operations in Somalia, the Balkans and other conflict flashpoints, as well as humanitarian disasters and day-to-day business, the new command has rarely had a shortage of responsibilities since its formation.

"I think it all rolls around to ops tempo," Zick observed. "If you think about it, from ‘91 to now, the mobility air forces have been engaged around the world, so the ops tempo hasn't really gone down for us."

While the tempo of operations remains high, AMC is frequently finding that it has to do more with less and find creative solutions.

"As budgets have reduced, we have to be smarter about how we utilize our resources and that's both manpower and equipment," Zick explained. "(The C-17) is doing great, but we're also looking for ways to recapitalize our older tanker fleet, so as we modernize the tanker fleet, we're looking at how to send it into denied environments."

A "denied environment" is one in which the enemy has enough anti-aircraft equipment and capabilities to seriously disrupt or endanger U.S. air operations.

AMC also tries to take advantage of the military's "total force" - which includes its Guard and Reserve components.

"Whatever we're (going) to go do, it's going to be a total force effort. Our Reserve and National Guard components are coming with us," Zick said. "With (more than) half of all mobility aircraft assigned to Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command units, we lead the Air Force in operating as a total force."

Since 9/11, many of those operations have once again centered on the Persian Gulf and Iraq in particular. While President Barack Obama declared the official end of Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and thousands of troops from both countries have been withdrawn, operations continue in the region. In particular, Operation Inherent Resolve - the U.S.-led effort to battle ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria - has presented a new host of challenges.

"Really, it comes down to three things that have changed as a result to changes in our national security landscape and guidance from our senior leaders: time, distance and forward basing," explained Johnson. "As the United States draws down forward basing around the world, there's an increasing dependence on what we do. That makes us more reliant with partner nations or allies as well.

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