IN THE MILITARY
AIR FORCE PHOTO BY CAPT. YVONNE LEVARDI
Air Force Lt. Col. Curt Walker, left, joined Wing Cmdr. Sumana Chulamokha, Group Capt. Suwit Wattanaroek and Group Capt. Noi Parkperm from the Royal Thai Air Force in coordinating air operations last week in the George C. Kenney Headquarters, Pacific Air and Space Operations Center, during the 25th annual Cobra Gold exercise at Hickam Air Force Base.
Heart of the Air Force beats at Hickam center
Humanitarian and combat operations are coordinated at the site
RINGED by royal palm trees at Hickam Air Force Base, the nearly one-year-old Gen. George C. Kenney Headquarters may be the military's latest warfighting tool, but it is surrounded by tradition.
The heart of its planning and logistics operations, the Pacific Operations Support Center, is on the second floor of what used to be a barracks that was strafed by Japanese fighters during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The scars from those Japanese bullets remain today.
Across the street in what used to be Hickam's Hangar 3 is Kenney's Pacific Air and Space Operations Center, where Air Force operations from humanitarian assistance to full-scale combat are executed. The Air Force spent $37 million to completely renovate the hangar and install 700 computers.
Col. Mark Tapper, Kenney's chief of staff, recently told reporters during a briefing on the new Air Force operations that although the center is "a warfighting headquarters, there is a lot more emphasis on humanitarian assistance missions than warfighting."
Tapper, a F-16 jet fighter pilot for most of the 26 years he has been in the Air Force, said the Kenney center fills a void in the long-range planning for combat and humanitarian assistance missions. It is the first of 10 such centers to be established by the Air Force throughout the world.
He noted that the military had the luxury of six months prior to the start of the 1991 Gulf War to plan and prepare for combat.
"All that changed with the air war over Serbia," said Tapper, "and the current global war on terrorism, which is ongoing."
However, Tapper said, "the real big test (for humanitarian assistance operations) was on Dec. 26, 2004, when in a matter of a few short hours 200,000 to 300,000 people were killed by the Indonesian tsunami. ... I was playing golf when I got the call and started immediately recalling my staff. Within 24 hours, we had aircraft on its way with help."
Tapper, who commanded the 502nd Air Operations Group during the 12-week humanitarian assistance effort, said the Asian tsunami relief mission "really brought home the importance of having one commander to command and control air operations in a contingency operation."
Shortly after the Asian tsunami relief effort ended, Gen. Paul Hester, Pacific Air Forces commander, began implementation of the Kenney warfighting center. Eventually, nine others will be created to conduct air operations in areas such as Europe and Southwest Asia.
The Pacific will have two centers, Tapper said: the one at Hickam, which will plan and conduct air operations for U.S. Pacific Forces commander Adm. William Fallon, and another one which likely will be established at Osan Air Base in South Korea.
At Hickam, Lt. Gen. David Deptula heads a staff of 650 people, which includes Air Force weather and communications squadrons. Deptula daily commands the Air Force's fighters and bombers that are assigned to Fallon's area of responsibility, as well as any allied aircraft assigned to the Kenney center.
Tapper said his planning staff is continuously working on warfighting plans as well as possible humanitarian assistance contingencies.
Since the Kenney warfighting center was established on June 1, 2005, it has helped replenish medical supplies on the Republic of the Marshall Islands in September when a fire destroyed part of a hospital in Majuro. It also brought assistance teams to the victims of the Philippine mudslide in February and was used to plan a response to a possible avian influenza pandemic crisis.
Next month, the Navy will assemble three nuclear aircraft carriers near Guam for the largest naval exercise since the Vietnam War. Deptula will command not only Air Force fighters, bombers and support aircraft, but also Navy jets assigned to the three carriers as well as a Marine air wing as the air commander for Adm. Gary Roughead, who is the overall commander for the execs.
Although all the action will take place near Guam the air operations will be run out of the Kenney center at Hickam. Deptula will assume a similar role during this summer's RIMPAC naval exercise.