By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
May 26, 2010 - The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have pointed to the importance of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, and today Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III thanked the airmen who provide much of that data.
Lynn stopped to visit with and thank the men and women of the 55th Wing here.
The deputy met with squadron commanders in a small conference room and then moved to a huge hangar, where he addressed about 400 airmen of the wing.
Part of the unit flies RC-135 reconnaissance jets, and though the unit is based here, the crews fly from forward bases around the world, including Kadena Air Base, Japan; the Royal Air Force base at Mildenhall, England; and Souda Bay Naval Support Activity, Crete. The wing has provided intelligence and reconnaissance capabilities for all aspects of operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
"The reality of what you are doing in theater is clearly saving lives," Lynn told the airmen. "You're providing the technology and connectivity and the awareness that lets those on the ground know what they are coming up against, and know it well in advance of when they see it. It gives them the opportunity to beat it." U.S. forces are taking casualties, the deputy secretary acknowledged. "But they are a fraction of what they would be without your contribution," he added.
Lynn also thanked the airmen's families and assured them that defense leaders understand that the constant deployments place strains on all families.
He thanked the maintainers who keep the wing's aging aircraft flying. The wing's crews fly specialized military versions of the Boeing 707 – the first viable commercial jet aircraft. The newest aircraft in the wing is 46 years old.
"These are not spring chickens," Lynn said of the aircraft. "The ability to keep those aircraft up and running [and] keep them doing the mission is a critical part of what you're doing."
No one really expected the wars America is in today, Lynn said. "I was in the Pentagon in the '90s as part of the defense planning [team]," he said. "What we were planning for then was ... doing Desert Storm all over again." The initial phase of the Iraq campaign was like that, he said, and American servicemembers did it extremely well.
"But it wasn't really the stressing part of what we're doing," he said. "The stressing part in the nature of the conflict is the insurgency and the duration of the conflict." The United States, he noted, has been involved in Iraq and Afghanistan longer than the country was involved in World War I and World War II together.
The deputy secretary said that no one expected this long a war with the related stresses and strains upon servicemembers, their families, their equipment and the strategies they use to fight. They are adjusting, he told the airmen, and changing the way wars are fought.
"What we are asking you to do is exceptional, and your response has been exceptional," Lynn said.
The secretary met with each airman in the hangar and then toured a nearby RC-135. The plane was full of the latest electronic gear, and the crew proudly showed off its capabilities to Lynn. The plane is one of the newer ones in the 55th Wing's fleet, having been delivered to the Air Force in 1964, and every airman on the crew was born after the aircraft was built.