AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar, May 8, 2020 —
For more than four months, COVID-19 has drastically impacted the lives of millions of people from nations all around the globe. Despite the pandemic’s impact on the United States, U.S. Air Forces Central Command continues to deliver war-winning airpower across the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, while at the same time protecting the men and women who command and control our air, space, and cyber missions.
For the joint and coalition team at the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC), the command and control hub of air operations throughout the region, shutting down combat operations is not an option.
“The CAOC never stops, sleeps, or rests, and staying at home isn't an option,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Frederick Coleman, commander of the 609th Air Operations Center. “The CAOC has continued to plan, produce, and execute air operations throughout the U.S. CENTCOM area of operation without missing a beat.”
The CAOC’s combat plans division is able to accomplish the mission by taking deliberate and methodical efforts to take care of their fellow Airmen and work centers while adhering to social distancing guidelines.
“First and foremost, the team looks out for each other,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Lynn O’Neil, combat plans division director. “The heightened daily cleaning, distancing, wearing of masks, small group meetings, etc., are the easy ways we ensure each other’s well being. The more difficult measure is reminding each other that physical distancing does not mean social distancing, and each member is an important member of our ‘deployed family.’”
As the AFCENT team combats COVID-19, it continues executing the strategic air tasking order, daily, throughout the region.
“Commanders at every level have forecasted, mitigated, and overcome every challenge during this time,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Cory Christoffer, deputy director of the 609th AOC. “Air tasking order operations have not been hindered because AFCENT is completely aligned with the Combined Forces Air Component Commander’s priority of fighting the named operations (Operations INHERENT RESOLVE and RESOLUTE SUPPORT) in the U.S. CENTCOM theater. Renovated battle rhythms, creativity in the face of quarantine requirements, clear commander expectations, safety of flight, and flight discipline have enabled operations to continue unhindered.”
The host wing for AFCENT’s headquarters staff and the CAOC at Al Udeid Air Base is the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing. Brig. Gen. Daniel Tulley, the base commander for all U.S. service members, credits team Al Udeid’s efforts in combating COVID-19 while also executing the wing’s vast mission.
“The men and women assigned to Al Udeid Air Base have shown great determination and resiliency in the face of the COVID-19 threat,” Tulley said. “Our team members continue to rise to each new challenge while taking all necessary measures to protect the force, prevent the spread of COVID-19 and ensure mission success.”
With the CAOC continuing to deliver operational direction, the other air expeditionary wings throughout the 20-nation AFCENT area of operations are able to carry out their tactical missions.
The leadership team of the 378th AEW at Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, continues to accomplish AFCENT’s priority of deterrence and stability in the region despite implementing guidelines to mitigate the threat of COVID-19.
“Our military might isn’t our equipment - it’s our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. John Walker, 378th AEW commander. “They have been trained to be tough and adaptable, and they are continuing to take the fight to our nation’s enemies, regardless of the impacts of COVID-19.”
“The pandemic has not diminished our ability to accomplish our national security objectives, and we stand at-the-ready, assuring our allies and partners, and deterring our adversaries and malign actors in the region,” Walker said. “If deterrence fails, we will provide swift response options in defense of American forces and our partners and allies.”
More than 400 miles away, the 380th AEW at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, continues to launch missions supporting operations throughout the region.
“As we, as a nation and global community, work together through the COVID-19 pandemic, the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing continues to deliver combat air power with our fighters, as well as support units through our refueling, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and command and control capabilities,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Lansing Pilch, commander of the 380th AEW. “We stand ready to defend U.S. interests and our allies in the region, while also developing relationships and partnerships with our host nation and coalition members.”
All of AFCENT’s air expeditionary wings continue to address unique challenges of COVID-19 while simultaneously delivering deterrence, war-winning airpower and developing partner capabilities. This is critical, according to AFCENT Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force Col. Sean M. Choquette.
“We are here to provide stability in the CENTCOM area of responsibility, and we do that by delivering a credible, capable and dynamic force to compete, deter and – if necessary – win,” Choquette said. “Our collective headquarters and wing leadership teams remain laser-focused on the mission. We have not been and will not be slowed by COVID-19.”