WASHINGTON, Sept. 23, 2011 — In wars, natural disasters and humanitarian emergencies, the Air Mobility Command’s real-time global response capability saves lives and brings people home, Air Force Gen. Raymond E. Johns Jr. said this week.
Johns, who commands AMC based at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., spoke to reporters here at a Defense Writers Group briefing.
“We know that no matter where in the world [a defense action or disaster occurs], something has to get there and we’re going to be taking it,” Johns said.
The command provides rapid global mobility and sustainment for the U.S. armed forces. The command also provides critical humanitarian support at home and around the world.
AMC employs C-17 Globemaster III, C-5M Galaxy and Super Galaxy aircraft.
The 135,000 men and women of AMC are active-duty Air Force, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and civilians. Together they perform and support airlift, aerial refueling, special air missions and aeromedical evacuation.
And as the air component of the U.S. Transportation Command, AMC provides airlift to support geographic combatant commands around the globe.
In landlocked Afghanistan, the command flies food, water, ammunition and fuel primarily using air-and-ground transport and supply routes called the Northern Distribution Network and less frequently the southern route over Pakistan and the Khyber Pass and into Afghanistan.
Sometimes, like last year, the command has to find alternate routes into Afghanistan.
“I never knew there were volcanoes in Iceland,” Johns said, referring to the Eyjafjoell volcano there whose ash clouds closed airspace for six days in April 2010 over western and northern Europe, affecting 100,000 flights, including AMC’s.
“We start[ed] taking off on the west coast to go through Hawaii, Japan, Singapore and Diego [Garcia in the Chagos Islands] to get into the back door [in Afghanistan],” he said.
“I was 20-percent less efficient but I was still able to flow,” Johns added. “I always have to be prepared for what happens if Mother Nature or somebody takes an action, so I’m always going through those what-if drills because at the end of the day I cannot stop the support [the troops] need.”
To move troops in and out of Afghanistan, Johns said he uses commercial contractors.
“Ninety percent of all passenger movements occur with our commercial contractors,” he said, adding that this year they will spend about $2.5 billion on commercial contractors to move soldiers, sailors and Marines. Contractors will also carry about 37 percent of total cargo.
“I am basically 10 times more expensive to move by air versus surface but I’m very effective,” Johns said. “I need to be used to the max, but if I have a [choice about how] to move folks in and out, I prefer surface.”
Airdrop is also critical to the job in Afghanistan, he said.
“In 2005 we did about 2 million pounds of airdrop; in 2010, 60 million pounds; this year, 90 million pounds,” Johns said. Every month, he added, his unit drops 6,000 4-foot-by-4-foot bundles of food, water, ammo and fuel into Afghanistan.
“There are places [in Afghanistan] where getting them their supplies is very risky by land conveyance, so they become more and more dependent on our airdrop,” the commander said.
“Even as they’re moving around the country, I can airdrop wherever they are,” he added.
Although coalition and U.S. troops are drawing down in Afghanistan, Johns expects airdrops to increase by 10 percent in 2012.
In March, as Operation Odyssey Dawn was ramping up in Libya, Johns said his command was well-served by mission analyses it had already done for Middle East and North African countries involved in the revolutionary wave of protests called Arab Spring.
When Johns got the call about Libya, he said, he knew the United States under Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welch could move fighters down from U.S. Air Forces in Europe. He also needed 24 KC-135 and four KC-10 aerial refueling tankers and help from the National Guard and Reserve.
Johns called Brig. Gen. Roy E. Uptegraff III, commander of the 171st Air Refueling Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard in Coraopolis, Pa.
“I say, ‘Roy, I’m not sure what we’re all getting into at this point but I need a general officer and I need a tanker guy. Will you take this mission?’ and Uptegraff said, ‘I got it,’ ” Johns added.
“Within a day or a day and a half we had 534 airmen mobilized to get to Mor?n [Air Base in Spain]. The next day we launched our armada of tankers under [Air Force Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward, commander of the 17th Air Force and U.S. Air Forces Africa] to meet up with the fighters to start this response,” Johns said.
“We were there with 24 and 4 [tankers] almost overnight,” he said. “The response was amazing.”
So far in Libya, Johns said, “I have 2,400 sorties and 146 million pounds of fuel offloaded and we have [aerially refueled] 11,000 receivers.
“If you think about what’s that done, it’s allowed [coalition aircraft] to stay overhead Libya … and keep [Muammar Gadhafi’s] military at bay so that nation can go through the transition it’s going through. So to me [the contribution] is huge,” Johns said.
The command has also delivered life-saving humanitarian assistance in every recent natural disaster, including Japan’s magnitude 9.0 earthquake and nuclear disaster in March.
“In 2010 we were doing the Afghan plus-up [of 30,000 troops] and the Iraq drawdown,” Johns said, in addition to providing assistance after Haiti’s magnitude 7.0 earthquake in January, Chile’s magnitude 8.8 earthquake in February, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in April, Pakistan floods in July and others.
“One thing that’s very interesting about our community is our ability to respond in real time,” he said. “Because we respond across the spectrum, I can’t say talk to me in two weeks. I have to be able to go tonight. And the Guard and reserve have to be equally trained and ready because [they are] two thirds of what we do.
“We are very nimble because of the nature of our business. We have to be,” Johns said.
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