Trip To Pacific Showcases Nation's Strength
December 20, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- For Soldiers throughout the world, the support of the Aviation and Missile Command is just a video teleconference or email away.
But sometimes that support comes in the form of actual "boots on the ground" visits by senior leadership who want a better understanding of the issues and working conditions of Soldiers who are trained and experienced in fielding the aviation and missile systems managed by the command.
In that respect, Maj. Gen. Jim Rogers, commander of the Aviation and Missile Command, led a whirlwind trip this fall to visit Soldiers serving in aviation and defense artillery units. Yet, this particular trip didn't take them to the world's high profile conflict areas, but rather to the west to visit sites within the Asia-Pacific region.
"The Pacific Command has been growing in importance for several years. It has often been overshadowed by events going on in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. But our mission is not just to support the war fighter in war, but Soldiers all over the world," Rogers said.
Making the trip with the two-star commander were the Aviation and Missile Command's deputy commander Ronnie Chronister, Command Sgt. Major Ricky Yates and Chief Warrant Officer 5 Keith Langewisch. Those making the trip were selected for specific reasons -- Yates for his knowledge of Soldier issues and for his work as a leader among enlisted Soldiers; Langewisch for his knowledge of aviation maintenance issues; and Chronister for his work in representing the command on behalf of Rogers and its employees.
The group began their trip with a 15-hour commercial flight from Atlanta to Seoul, South Korea, where they spent two days meeting with leadership and Soldiers from the Eighth Army, 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade and the 6-52 Air Defense Artillery Battalion.
They then traveled to Okinawa, Japan, where they met with leaders and Soldiers from the 1-1 Air Defense Artillery. Rogers was the first commander from the Aviation and Missile Command to visit the unit.
"A Patriot battalion was put in there six years ago," Chronister said. "It's not a place that is real easy to get to. But it was really worth the effort to meet with the battalion there. It is strategically important because it is located there to defend from attacks from North Korea or China. When you visit, you very quickly see and understand the strategic importance of that little speck of an island."
Lastly, in Hawaii, the group visited the Pacific Command headquarters. The command is a unified combatant command that encompasses about half the Earth's surface, stretching from the U.S. west coast to the western border of India, and from the Antarctica to the North Pole. The 36 nations in this region are home to more than 50 percent of the world's population, 3,000 different languages, several of the world's largest militaries, two of the four largest economies, and five nations allied with the U.S. The Pacific Command includes about 250,000 or about one-fifth of the total U.S. military strength.
While in Hawaii, the group also visited the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, which is getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan, and a National Guard unit that will be receiving new CH-47 Chinook helicopters.
At each stop, the group looked closely at issues related to aircraft and missile sustainability.
"We looked at everything, down to the tools and shop sets and equipment," Yates said. "We wanted to make sure they had the current operating equipment. We wanted to see the interaction of the Soldiers with the equipment at each location. That particular Soldier -- whether it's a private or a sergeant -- who is talking to us can give us better ideas on how we can help to sustain them in the field. Putting a face to the Soldier helps us to do our job better."
The group's four-day in-country itinerary was supported by the command's logistics assistance representatives assigned to the Pacific Rim as well as the combatant and brigade commanders within the Pacific Command.
"The LARS helped develop our timeline. They are in the field and they know what needs to be important to us. They did all the coordination to get us in to see these units and their leadership," Langewisch said.
The fact-finding trip allowed the group to visit with Patriot missile units in South Korea and Japan, where they viewed corrosion issues up close.
"The site picture we got gave us a little more added emphasis on the issues and validated the needs of their reports," Rogers said.
It was of interest to the group to learn about the Patriot's role in Okinawa, and how the Army's Patriot units relate to the Air Force and Marine units they are co-located with.
"What are the Patriot units really doing in Okinawa? What are we defending? Who are we supporting? The Air Force has put their arms around our Soldiers located on an Air Force base," Yates said. "We were able to see the differences between a Patriot system in the continental U.S. and one that is outside the continental U.S. The trip helped us get a view of where we can help the OCONUS Patriot sites."
The group was aware of corrosion issues related to the Patriot system, but "maybe not the extent that they were a problem. The trip validated we were taking care of those Soldiers and the equipment," Chronister said.
They also looked at the support provided at each visited site by the Test Measurement and Diagnostic Equipment activity at Redstone.
"Even on small weapons gauges, it takes TMDE to gauge them to guarantee accuracy on firing," Yates said. "It takes TMDE to support the war fighter."
Beyond gathering information, the trip carried a secondary mission to show the command's presence.
"It was about making a statement. We wanted to show Soldiers that AMCOM is interested in their work," Rogers said. "It allowed us to see the area firsthand and to see how important the Pacific Command is to the whole country. We wanted to see firsthand how we could better help the Soldiers assigned to the Pacific Command. We wanted to get our own sense of where they are at and the issues they are having. We wanted to come back with some challenges."
The trip gave the Aviation and Missile Command a higher profile among the units they visited.
"AMCOM is a hidden support to the war fighter," Yates said. "They've heard of AMCOM but they really don't know what we do. When they find out what we do, they want to get more in-depth in conversations on how we can support them."
Yates shared the AMCOM mission with many enlisted Soldiers as the group went from meeting to meeting with Soldier leadership.
"I'd be off wandering around and pulling and retrieving Soldiers to talk about issues. I would introduce them to the commanding general so that he could hear their concerns. And he would recognize them and let them know how much we appreciate them," Yates said.
Leaders and employees of the Aviation and Missile Command are aware of issues that Soldiers face in the operation of aviation and missile systems.
"We track readiness every day," Chronister said. "But it's always good to see firsthand what is going on. You never really know what's going on until you sit down with the Soldiers and talk with them. Because the attention is on Iraq and Afghanistan, sometimes these Soldiers may feel neglected. But they are not."
This was Chronister's third trip to the Pacific Rim. He has also represented the Aviation and Missile Command in the area in 2005 and 2008.
"This trip was different than the others I've taken," he said. "There was a different feeling this time. There's a sensitivity, a level of attention of what's going on. Threats in the area are clearly elevated. There's a heightened sense of urgency.
"The strategic importance of the Pacific Rim to the security of the world and world economy, and the threats to that security and economy, validates that we have to pay very close attention to what's going on over there, and that's consistent with the present (presidential) administration."
For a 27-year career Soldier like Langewisch, the trip served to emphasize the Soldier mission in the Pacific Rim.
"I think we got a greater appreciation for the mission that we may not get over a video teleconference or through an email," he said. "We gained an appreciation not only for the work being done by the Soldiers there but for the whole concept of why we are there. It goes beyond protecting borders to include a bigger strategic plan."
Yates, who has traveled to the Pacific Rim one other time in his current position, said the visit with units at Okinawa "helped us to better understand exactly the urgency of when a radar goes down or a Patriot site goes down, and what the mission really is all about."
One of the benefits of the trip was the opportunity to visit with Soldiers that the command supports.
"The Soldiers are doing great. They love what they are doing and they were all very positive. They have a real mission there. The Soldiers knew what their mission was and it was very evident that they are doing their service with pride," Rogers said.
The AMCOM group also took the time to mentor the young Soldiers they met.
"We talked to groups of Soldiers about what's going on in the world and how they fit into that.
We wanted them to know how much we appreciate the great work they are doing," Rogers said.
Chronister said the Soldier visits were meaningful for the group.
"Any time you get to see Soldiers, it's a highlight of the trip," he said. "It re-energizes your batteries. With all the pressure and stress of budgets and taking care of people back here, visiting Soldiers in the field really validates what we do."
One highlight that was especially personal to the group was their visit with the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade and one of its OH-58D Kiowa Warrior pilots -- Capt. Brandon Nixon, who previously served as the aide to the Aviation and Missile Command commander. Nixon volunteered to join the 25th CAB so that he could deploy with the unit.
"We got to see Capt. Nixon, and his wife and their three young children. It really does make what we do personal when you have a connection like we do with their family," Chronister said. "And it emphasizes for us why we need to be focused and concentrated on the mission. Capt. Nixon and his family represent what's great about Army families. They are the epitome of an Army family. He's willing to volunteer for a deployment and his family supports his commitment to service."
Chronister added that meeting with Soldiers readying for a deployment carries with it a certain degree of intensity.
"Their mindset is very focused. Their attention was clearly on the mission," he said.
The message the group heard from leaders throughout the Pacific Rim emphasized the importance of the region to world peace and prosperity.
"I was impressed that the whole Pacific theater of operations is focused on telling the world how important their mission is. They spoke with one voice," Rogers said.
As China, South Korea, North Korea, Japan and other countries in the region grow and prosper so, too, does their importance as a strategic partner to the U.S.
"These countries are an integral part of the world economy," Rogers said. "Their growth in population and wealth makes them important. And it is important to the U.S. to provide defensive systems like the Patriot to protect our interests.
"History has shown that if you become an isolationist, you have no say in the world. Our country has had to learn that a couple of times. We are the democracy of the world that others look up to. It's in our best interest to help all of those countries who support us."