GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Air Force Gen. Carrol "Howie" Chandler discusses the operations of his Pacific Air Forces Command from his headquarters at Hickam Air Force Base.
Air Force general has Pacific under his wing
Since November, Gen. Carrol "Howie" Chandler has been in charge of 45,000 military and civilians working in an area extending from the west coast of the mainland to the east coast of Africa and from the Arctic to the Antarctic.
U. S. Pacific Air Forces
Personnel: 45,000 civilian and military
Area of responsibility: 100 million square miles
Facilities: Nine in Hawaii, Alaska, Japan, Guam and South Korea
Major units: 3rd Wing at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska; 8th Fighter Wing in Kusan; South Korea; 15th Airlift Wing at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii; 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa; 51st Fighter Wing in Osan, South Korea; 354th Fighter Wing at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska; 35th Fighter Wing in Misawa, Japan; 374th Airlift Wing at Yokota Air Base in Japan; and 36th Wing at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.
Humanitarian missions: 140 since 1944
Source: U.S. Air Force
On the average day there are at least 8,600 airmen from the nine major bases that make up Chandler's Pacific Air Forces Command who are deployed away from their families.
About 300 fighter and attack aircraft are assigned to PACAF's 5th Air Force at Yokota Air Base in Japan, the 7th Air Force at Osan Air Base in South Korea, the 11th Air Force at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska and the 13th Air Force at Hickam Air Force Base.
The Pacific Air Forces, with an annual budget of $2.2 billion, is headquartered at Hickam, and is in one of the Air Force's nine major commands. It is the vital air component of the U.S. Pacific Command, led by Adm. Thomas Keating.
Last week Chandler, a F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon jet pilot with more than 3,900 flight hours, spent an hour with island military reporters outlining his priorities, discussing where the Air Force will deploy its aircraft and crews, its efforts in combating terrorist threats in the Pacific and what is being done to take care of the airmen and their families in his command.
From his spacious second-floor office -- which has a commanding view of the Koolau Mountains -- the four-star general stressed the importance of the Pacific.
Chandler said that "three of our seven programmed F-22 (Raptor combat jet) squadrons will be coming to the Pacific -- to Alaska and one here in Hawaii. We have the only two overseas based C-17 units based in the Pacific -- one in Alaska and one in Hawaii."
He said that B-52 bombers were working with Army troops on the ground flying two sorties a day last week. They took off from Guam and dropped inert bombs at the Big Island's Pohakuloa Training Area at the direction of Army soldiers, just like what is being done with live ammunition in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"That training range is extremely important to us," Chandler added, "because that is what allows us to do joint training in the islands. No other place allows to do that type of training except at Pohakuloa. That is incredibly important to us."
Two C-17 Globemaster cargo jets, crewed by active Air Force and Hawaii Air National Guard personnel, recently delivered relief supplies to China following the devastating May 12 earthquakes and a third C-17 from McChord Air Force Base in Washington ferried in critical search and rescue equipment.
Chandler said the foundations the United States has laid down since the end of World War II have been strengthened by U.S. military humanitarian efforts.
"In a strange way," Chandler added, "and it's a bit unfortunate, but the natural disasters that we have seen occurred, all the way from the tsunamis to some of the other things that have happened here, have caused a lot of nations in this region not just to work bilaterally, but multilaterally to try do solve some of these problems.
"So if there is anything positive to come out of this, it's that fact where we used to have a lot of bilateral relations in this part of the world, today you see a lot more multilateral efforts particularly in humanitarian disaster relief."
Chandler added that there will be at least four visits by high ranking Chinese to the islands this year.
The following is an edited transcript of Chandler's interview.
Question: What are your views on the U.S. relationship with China?
Chandler: "The same PACOM (Pacific Command) has. We would like to see China be a mature member of the family of nations. There are a lot of different ways to do that. There are a lot of ways that aren't helpful in that regard too. The issue of port visits to Hong Kong: Over the Thanksgiving holiday these ships were denied going into to Hong Kong. The embassy's C-17 mission to Hong Kong was canceled too. You don't hear a lot about that, but there is a regular embassy run into Hong Kong that was canceled too. ... Those kinds of things aren't necessarily helpful. ... if you look to where the Chinese is going in terms of domestic stability, in terms of economic growth and in terms of national unity. Those are the three things they think about more than anything else. At the same time they are building a military to go with those things. Diplomatically you are going to continue to see them grow. Economically they are going to continue to grow. I think militarily they have demonstrated that they will continue to grow. The question then is how do we all make this fit together out here in the Pacific without a miscalculation. It's a tough question and hard to answer."
Question: Will the Air Force continue to maintain its operations at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa?
Chandler: "As I said earlier, Japan is really a keystone to our relationships in the western Pacific. It is an ally of the United States. Likewise Kadena is a keystone in that relationship in my opinion. We would like to stay at Kadena. Kadena is extremely important to us and that is why we keep two squadrons of F-15s there and why we work with the Okinawans as we do. We see Kadena as an important place to be. I couldn't see moving out of Kadena any time in the near future."
Question: There have been several crashes of F-15 jets. Is it time to replace them?
Chandler: We have been pretty straightforward in the Air Force in the fact that we have to modernize and recapitalize the fighter force. The F-22 and the F35 are the results of that. ... Today it takes a long time to develop and actually build and buy an airplane. The F-15s are old. I flew the F-15s in Okinawa in the early '80s. I went back in the late 1980s and '90s and flew the same airplane. ... To answer your question directly: We need to replace the F-15 and we need to get on with that. We need to do it with the correct numbers and quickly enough in terms of the F-22s and F-35s, so we get the capabilities that we need."