By Air Force Capt. Angelic Dolan
Special to American Forces Press Service
May 26, 2009 - The 586th Air Expeditionary Group is one of three Air Force groups organized to complete joint expeditionary taskings and is contributing significantly to operations in Iraq and Kuwait, the group's commander said. Col. Alan Metzler, 586th AEG commander, spoke with journalists and bloggers during a DODLive Blogger's roundtable May 20. Metzler is responsible for organizing, training and equipping more than 650 ground combat airmen across four geographically separated locations to fill U.S. Army requirements. The airmen conduct combat logistics, convoys, area security operations, detainee visitation, explosive detection and chapel ministry.
"When deployed, those forces -- those JET missions -- are under my operational and administrative control and they receive their tactical orders from Army commanders," Metzler said. "We deploy alongside soldiers, sailors, Marines and our coalition partners in unique missions that some people might not normally associate with the Air Force."
The 586th supports the Army-led task force at Camp Bucca, Iraq, that operates a theater internment facility. The TIF houses thousands of detainees who have been identified as security risks to Multinational Force Iraq, the government of Iraq and the Iraqi people.
"We support that mission by facilitating visits between family members and the detainees," said Metzler. "That's one of our two core missions that we perform there. We operate a first-class visitation center where we process over 1,800 detainee family members each week. Last year, we processed 132,000 visitors through our facility. Now, we're especially vigilant in our screening procedures to protect ourselves, but also to protect our task force counterparts and the detainees. We provide quality care and custody in a secure environment."
Airmen in the visitation section have a critical job, he explained.
"They have hundreds of daily contacts with visitors to Camp Bucca -- the family members of detainees who sometimes have a jaded outlook of us and our goals in Iraq," he said. "Through these thousands of contacts a week, we've learned one thing -- that our most important weapons in countering negative views and gaining their support for our strategic objectives in Iraq is our values as airmen and our values as Americans."
Communication, respect and human decency have become the most effective tools for the airmen working in the visitation section, he added.
"We treat everyone with dignity and respect. We have earned their respect as a result," Metzler explained. "Our contact, our care, compassion and communication -- and when I say communication, I mean our airmen are learning to speak Arabic and they interact with these family members every day. All of these elements have been a key element in changing their attitudes for all these family members. By doing so, we increase the safety and security of the TIF, which is one of our core missions, and we gain their support and reconcile this population in support of Iraq's future."
One other major mission the group's airmen perform is under the tactical control of the U.S. Army's 4th Sustainment Brigade, located at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. They are the only line-haul convoy mission in the Air Force, said Metzler.
"In basic terms, we're combat truckers, and we move cargo in and out of Iraq," he said. "We operate every day on the roads and forward operating bases of Iraq driving millions of miles a year in some very dangerous places. We go everywhere from bases in southern Iraq up to Baghdad and to northern and western provinces and bases in Mosul and Anbar."
Airmen and soldiers work side-by-side, driving trucks and moving cargo in and out of Iraq as a single team, Metzler said.
"It's an exciting mission for us because when they go out on the road, they're going to go out as a joint team with Army providing security, Air Force in command and control doing the cargo movement, and we'll have contracted support vehicles," he said.
It's an environment that requires incredible flexibility, incredible professionalism and incredible discipline, Metzler said.
"We'll have dozens of trucks on the road operating for days in Iraq, all commanded by an Air Force technical sergeant," he said. "These are great airmen that are highly trained and capable of handling themselves down range. We want disciplined, professional, combat-ready airmen and we're going to deliver mission excellence to our operational and tactical commanders."
The airmen of the 586th perfectly represent what Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said about the Air Force being "all in" when it comes to the continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Metzler said.
"There's been some discussions in the past and commentary about our commitment to the current fight and whether we're part of the ground fight," Metzler said. "I can assure you that the Air Force is fully engaged. We're contributing to the counterinsurgency effort here and there's no question that airmen are making a difference in this campaign in the air and on the ground."
(Air Force Capt. Angelic Dolan is assigned to 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs).