Transitions: Higher Echelons

 

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In June of 2014, the Air Force Reserve promoted me to the rank of Major.  Having replaced my captain’s bars with shiny new “oak leaves”, I closed one chapter of my career and looked toward the future, whatever it might be.

In many instances, the traditional pathway for military officers in the U.S. Armed Forces goes something like this: After training and commissioning, the most junior officers (ensigns and lieutenants) serve at the tactical level in combat or supporting units. These are the “Company Grade Officers).  Most will be promoted to captain (or lieutenant in the naval branches), assuming greater responsibility and leading enlisted troops.  After that, the path forward narrows.  Seasoned junior officers will have their records reviewed by a board of senior officers, and a percentage of those with the right experience and education will be selected to move upward in the “Field Grade Officer” (FGO) ranks.

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Field Grade Officers typically serve in positions of  greater authority, either supporting a commander as a staff officer and eventually as a commander themselves.  Each succeeding level of command promotes fewer officers to those ranks (Not everyone can be a General!).  Commanders in most cases preside over  a staff of officers who advise the leader on various aspects of the military institution: intelligence, operations, logistics, manpower, etc.  It is a traditional role of someone at the rank of major to serve on a staff.

As of this March, I’ve chosen to do just that.  I assumed the duties of an operations staff officer in the headquarters of the Eighteenth Air Force, at Scott Air Force Base.   The 18th Air Force is one the USAF’s 17 “Numbered Air Forces”, a level of command between the Wing (a base-level typically made up a number of groups and squadrons) and the higher echelon know as a Major Command or Combatant Command.  In the case of the 18th, it is commanded by a three-star general who is responsible for tasking the Air Force’s tanker and cargo aircraft fleets in peacetime and war. My small role in this headquarters is the initial planning of potential future operations- responding to world crises as they may arise.

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For over a decade, I’ve been a flyer.  I’m aircrew, specifically a navigator (or Combat Systems Officer, to use the official term)  My responsibilities were to plan, brief, and fly airborne military missions.  My new position requires a new set of responsibilities.  Instead of leading from the cockpit, I will execute orders from a desk.  It’s an often lampooned aspect of the Air Force career- giving up one’s seat in the airplane for one behind a desk.  And for better or worse, is true. The higher one moves up the chain of command, the less likely they are to be leading troops in the field.  But as an officer, it is expected that I will take on greater responsibilities within the military structure.

I am a devout believer in the role of Airpower.  Throughout  human history, only a few technological advancements have truly changed the way conflicts are fought.  Armor. Gunpowder. The combustion engine. The airplane has fundamentally altered how war must be fought.  Where once oceans, mountains, and walls could hold an enemy at bay or restrict the movement of a nation’s forces,  we can now effect a conflict at anytime, anywhere in the battlespace through air and space.

But despite what some in the media (any many Air Force officers, to my continued angst) will say, airpower is not about bombing the enemy. Yes, that is one role of the Air Force.  But just as important are aerial reconnaissance, deterrence, and the transport of a military.   The U.S. Air Force maintains as one of it’s core capabilities the ability to transport, anything, anytime, anywhere.  Rapid Global Mobility may not be as sexy in the media as fighters and bombers or as well understood as the kinetic effects of bombs and missiles, but it is what makes all other aspects of the military enterprise possible.  In peace or war, the mobility air forces span the planet to conduct  missions on behalf of the United States.  I’m happy to say I’ll be there, behind the scenes, making it possible.

 

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