By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
April 18, 2007 – U.S. Central Command is the shield behind which nations of the Middle East and Central Asia can find non-violent, political solutions to the problems that plague the region, said the command's retiring senior enlisted advisor. The operations in Iraq epitomize the shield U.S. troops provide for the region, Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Curtis Brownhill said in an interview via telephone yesterday from CENTCOM headquarters in Tampa, Fla. Brownhill turned his duties over to Marine Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey A. Morin April 12.
"The military is never going to be able to win the war on its own," Brownhill said. "There has to be a political change in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen have been out there, keeping that shield up, providing the security to allow the political change to occur in the institutions of government to build."
Brownhill, who retires after 34 years in the Air Force, said conditions on the ground in Iraq necessitated the surge of U.S. military personnel into the country.
"Today the shield is thicker and stronger, so the Iraqis can do more of what they could have and should have done sooner," he said.
But even with the surge, the Iraqis are at the heart of the Baghdad security plan. The plan calls for the Iraqis to come through for security for all the people of the metropolis. Brownhill said the plan put "the pressure on the government to represent all of the people and not just a sect."
Behind the coalition shield, not only will Iraqi military and police forces have time to develop, but so will other institutions, such as the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health and financial institutions, Brownhill said.
The enemy understands this and is working to quash progress in the city, Brownhill said, noting that there have been some attacks that are brutal beyond even Iraqi standards. He said terrorists placed children in a car to get it through a checkpoint. They blew up the car with the children inside.
"The enemy tries to disrupt stability wherever it looks like it is taking root," he said. "It's in their interest to cause chaos, and the people of Iraq realize that."
But Central Command is more than simply operations in Iraq. There are 27 nations in the region that stretches from Kenya to Kazakhstan and Egypt to Pakistan. The command works with all nations in the region - with the exception of Iran - to foster good military-to-military relationships.
"Theater security cooperation is the phrase here," Brownhill said. "We work with the countries to help keep neighbors talking with neighbors."
U.S. Central Command personnel help train indigenous forces to take on their own national security. They work to share intelligence about terrorism, and to buttress government capabilities. The command works closely with the U.S. State Department and the various U.S. embassies of the region. The command also works closely with neighboring combatant commands. U.S. European Command and U.S. Pacific Command abut Central Command, and the three work closely to ensure that enemies don't exploit the seams between the commands, Brownhill said.
"We've seen change in the region largely because of what is going on in Afghanistan and Iraq," the chief said. "We've seen countries make advances in their political environments - more women's rights, more representative governments - because they see it can happen. Afghanistan and Iraq can serve as an example to the rest of the region."
And the people are responding. Many pundits want to get away from labeling the struggle the global war on terror; Brownhill said if that's the case, they should label it "the war on the enemies of humanity." He said all the countries of the region recognize the threat these terrorists pose and have cooperated as much as they can with U.S. efforts.
Continuing to build those relationships is the key to long-term stability in the region. Brownhill said investments in the international military education and training program have the biggest pay-off.
"If you invest in helping train a foreign captain today, that person will go through the ranks and ultimately may be running the military," he said. "Then, that person already understands the need to work together, understands regional issues and - through the U.S. example - understands how a military works in a democracy."
He said many countries of the region would like to emulate the U.S. noncommissioned officer corps. Language proficiency stops many promising NCOs from attending U.S. courses. "There ought to be a regional center where we can train these NCOs," he said.
Brownhill began his military career right at the dawn of the all-volunteer force. "When I enlisted, all these people were saying that (the military) was going to be a disaster, that the U.S. had to maintain a draft," he said. "In the 34 years since, we can point to the progress the military has made as a direct result of the all-volunteer force."
The U.S. personnel in the region are motivated and have high morale, he said. "Every servicemember over there is there because they want to be in the military and serve the nation," he said. "When the work is worthy and meaningful, people will stay the course and stay in the service.
"Is there a drain on them because of multiple deployments? Of course," he continued. "But they are able to focus on the mission. Several times I got the question, 'Don't you think all that's going on in the media or the Congress is demoralizing the troops?' I always said the troops are a lot stronger and more resilient than we give them credit for."
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