America: The Land of Liberty

SAF/PA 2006 Air Force Public Affairs

Independence Day, 2006

Two hundred and thirty years ago on this day, America's founding fathers signed a priceless document that began a bold experiment to establish a form of government of the people, by the people and for the people. Just 100 years ago, only 25 countries with restricted democracies existed. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Americans have given the ultimate sacrifice during our wars and conflicts to provide millions of people the conditions to govern themselves freely. Today more than 120 countries have liberal democratic forms of government. President Bush has clearly stated his resolve to continue to spread democracy in the world. This task is not quick...it is not easy...and America's enemies are active. 

From the United States' War for Independence to our current global war on terrorism, we have struggled against tyranny and oppression. We currently face an enemy who calls no one country home, who fights for vastly different ideals and who has proven himself to be brutal. 

Our United States Air Force has faced continuous combat operations for 16 years finding success at adapting to many unconventional roles and missions...some of which you will hear about today. But at the same time we are looking to the past for guidance, we are planning for our future by modernizing our equipment and processes and continuing to expand our superiority into space and cyberspace. 

Listen to the following report: "He is at this time transporting armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, begun with circumstances of cruelty and deceit scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages. He has excited domestic insurrections among us, and has endeavored to bring on merciless savages whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions." 

This report could easily describe the actions of terrorists today like (the now-deceased) Al Zarqawi or Osama bin Laden. Yet this report was first signed by John Hancock 230 years ago describing King George in the Declaration of Independence. Another of our founding fathers, John Adams, believed one third of the colonists supported independence, one third were loyal to the British crown, and the remaining third were uncommitted - waiting to see who would prevail. Winning the hearts and minds of the local population was as important to George Washington and his army as it is today for our troops in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. 

America's fight for Independence took more than six years to finish and many times, such as at Valley Forge, it seemed like the Continental Army led by George Washington would not prevail. But the perseverance and adaptability of the American military eventually freed the United States from British oppression. America's commitment to peace and our fight for freedom has not and will not waver. 

On this Fourth of July, the Air Force is fighting our nation's war against terrorism and deterring aggression around the world. It is a struggle every bit as much a fight for freedom as the war that was fought in 1776. Once again America is in a battle for humanity, for the right of people - not just Americans - to live in a world free of terror and fear. 

Currently, we have 30,000 Airmen deployed around the globe - active, Guard and Reserve. We fly more than 200 combat and combat support sorties a day including close air support for ground forces, air refueling, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, and life-saving aeromedical evacuations. Our C-130s and C-17s remain the safest method to transport troops and supplies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Airmen are also superbly adapting to many evolving roles and missions such as joint ground operations and civil affairs operations with Iraqi and Afghan people. 

Ever since becoming an independent service after World War II, the Air Force has been supporting ground forces with airlift, close air support, and reconnaissance. Back then, we made a promise to the Army to help protect the ground soldier from enemy attack. In fact, American air superiority has been so dominant that no American soldier has been killed by enemy aircraft since the Korean War more than 50 years ago. The F-22A and the Joint Strike Fighter will help the Air Force continue to keep that promise. 

In today's unconventional war against terror, our troops do not worry about enemy aircraft, but rather, they fear ambushes, roadside improvised explosive devices and mortars fired into their camp. So you can understand why the Air Force is constantly adapting to better protect ground forces through new technology and tactics. The expanded use and arming of unmanned aerial vehicles such as the Predator has greatly increased our surveillance and reconnaissance of roads and base perimeters to find the enemy and quickly attack. The terrorists who have eluded Coalition forces thus far understand the lethality of the United States Air Force and at the slightest sound of an aircraft, they quickly disperse and hide among the local civilians. Sometimes they are lucky and get away for a while but rest assured, they will not be lucky forever. This was proven on June 7th, when two Air Force F-16s bombed a terrorist safe house and killed the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. 

Today's American Airmen continue to successfully adapt by blending conventional and unconventional methods of warfare to complete their missions. For instance, four years ago, Airmen on horseback in Afghanistan carried laser designators to guide bombs dropped by U.S. aircraft against Taliban forces. In May of this year, a B-1 bomber, for the first time, dropped a single 500-pound GPS-guided bomb near Kandahar, Afghanistan that killed 15 Taliban attacking a U.S. convoy. A decade ago, few Pentagon planners would choose the B-1 to assist troops in contact with the enemy since it was designed to "carpet bomb" an area with a string of 84 unguided bombs. However, the incredible precision of Air Force weapons has allowed our strategic bomber fleet of B-1s, B-52s and B-2s to destroy targets with small bombs that limit surrounding damage to protect our nearby troops and innocent civilians. Minimizing collateral damage in Iraq and Afghanistan is a top priority in our efforts to win the hearts and minds of the local population vice our enemies whose goal is collateral damage. 

Our aircrews are just a small part of our Air Expeditionary Forces deployed overseas. Thousands of Air Force support personnel are stationed all over the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan, assisting the joint warfighter and Coalition forces in reconstruction, patrols, ground transportation, and medical care. 

Hundreds of Air Force civil engineers blend with Army, Navy, Marine, and civilian contractors to undertake the massive--and many times dangerous--task of rebuilding countries torn by decades of tyranny and war. Rebuilding infrastructures to provide reliable essential services is helping the emergence of democracy and establishing the foundation for a strong economy. 

For example, despite 25 years of neglect and the costly insurgency, Iraq's infrastructure is bouncing back. U.S. assistance is having a real impact on the lives of the Iraqi people. Civil engineers, many Air Force, have refurbished 834 schools, providing classrooms for 325,000 students. We've taken children out of 'mud schools' and put them in modern, clean buildings conducive to learning. In addition, our Airmen assisted in building 72 fire stations, 307 police stations, and 23 courthouse and prison facilities. One Iraqi, Esam Al Askar, believed a new sewer system was the best gift from Coalition forces since sewage was leaking into the water supply and making many of his villagers sick. Our efforts to rebuild Iraq go beyond actual brick and mortar construction, we are also training Iraqis how to care for projects once they are finished and of course, we are providing security for these critical facilities. 

Let's talk about security for a moment. You might be aware that as part of the Air Force plan to adapt and transform, the view at our installation's front gates has changed. Air Force security police forces at most bases have been replaced with civilian contractors manning gates and providing other base security functions. This frees many of our highly trained security forces Airmen to deploy in support of our efforts overseas. We still have dedicated security forces patrolling base perimeters in Iraq and Afghanistan, but you may not know that these brave Airmen are also performing door-to-door searches hunting down terrorists and criminals. 

As with our security police forces and civil engineers, our Air Force doctors and nurses are also blending with joint warfighters in hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you watched the recent HBO television special called "Baghdad ER" you saw the incredible talent of our military health care professionals and the daily life and death struggles they face. In fact, according to a medical group commander, patients arriving at Balad Air Base in Iraq, have a 96% chance of leaving alive, thanks to the Air Force theater hospital there. 

This astounding percentage is due in large part to a highly developed Air Force and Army aeromedical evacuation system. Moving patients from where they were injured to definitive care quickly and safely can be logistically challenging, especially across hot desert sands and bumpy unpaved roads. The current aeromedical evacuation system has become so efficient that they can literally move a patient within minutes of their injury to the first echelon of care in field clinics and within hours to the Air Force field hospital. Ask Army Specialist Brian Scaramuzzo of the 57th Transportation Company. After sustaining deep cuts in both legs when his 5-ton truck flipped on its side while driving in a convoy in Iraq, he was being transported on a series of helicopters to the Air Force theater hospital within 25 minutes. 

But the stories that amaze even our fellow Americans are the stories of Airmen providing medical care to seemingly unlikely patients. Of the thousands of patients seen in the Air Force theater hospital in Balad, Iraq, almost 40 percent of them are Iraqi citizens, insurgents and detainees injured in combat. Clinics throughout Iraq and Afghanistan see patients lining up for days to receive care for ailments, which have gone untreated for years due to poverty and lack of access. This compassion for all, despite the identity of the patients, is a true testament to the embodiment of the core values of our Airmen. 

Along with our medical professionals on the ground and in the air, our Air Force transportation specialists have proven themselves to be adaptable to evolving roles and missions. These young Airmen probably expected their first years of military service to be driving and repairing our Air Force buses, vans, and cars. This war on terror changed that...and now many are carrying rifles and manning machine guns escorting convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan. These brave Airmen provide essential protection of supply convoys and are critical to the success of our mission. 

And success of our mission is not always about fighting the bloody war against terrorists and insurgents. The most lethal Air Force in the world has also proven to be the most compassionate. Our core values of integrity, service and excellence lead Airmen to do the right thing for humanity. This heartfelt compassion has the side effect of helping to win the hearts and minds of the people in these newly liberated countries in the hopes that they will continue to turn away from violence and oppression. 

For example, one of our C-17s recently flew 110 Iraqi children and 97 of their parents, guardians and escorts from Baghdad to Amman, Jordan and back in support of "Operation Smile." Operation Smile is an international non-governmental organization that provides corrective surgery for cleft palates and cleft lips for children. Another great example is when 20 Airmen, members of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan visited the local village of Gadia to bring basic necessities donated by people throughout the world. They handed out clothes, shoes, hygiene items, toys and school supplies to about 500 Afghans as part of the base's ongoing Adopt-A-Village program. Airmen deployed all over the world in austere locations such as Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and Djibouti, Africa have also volunteered their time in orphanages and passed out clothing and supplies to the children and parents. 

Our world has changed and the Air Force understands we must be ready to meet those changes. As we adapt to the current combat conditions, your Air Force continues to transform at home from a Cold War, garrison-based force to a smaller, more flexible force under tight fiscal constraints. We fight today's unconventional battles and at the same time continue to prepare 10, 20 and 30 years ahead for the next fight. 

An important part of looking to the future is looking to space. Our space-based systems provide U.S. forces with communication, navigation, and intelligence capabilities that are critical to our nation's defense. The Air Force supplies space capabilities to meet the needs of joint operations worldwide, and also the needs of national missions across the instruments of diplomatic, informational, military and economic power. Our satellites provide unprecedented precision strike capability. 

But these capabilities aren't just for the warfighter. Weather satellites helped track Hurricanes Katrina and Rita for days prior to landfall, allowing many residents in the region to seek shelter. After the hurricanes actually hit and devastated the land-based communications infrastructure, space satellites provided the only means of communication in many areas of the Gulf Coast region. GPS and satellite imagery assisted the recovery efforts as search and rescue teams used these resources to find and retrieve flood victims. 

As a constant reminder to look to the future, we added the domain of cyberspace to our mission statement. Cyberspace is the primary medium where we conduct our command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations. The director of the newly-created Cyberspace Task Force has said that technology is evolving exponentially and this is the only warfighting domain in which we have peer competitors. Our America's Air Force is leading the way to protect our vitally important cyber systems and at the same time learning how to defeat the enemy's. 

As you can see, we have learned a great deal from our combat operations during the past 16 years, and based on our lessons learned, we continue to adjust our force structure to help recapitalize our aging Air Force into a stronger, more modernized service. Budget constraints have forced us to find ways to eliminate redundancy and optimize our processes. There's no doubt we must modernize both our hardware and our personnel structure. In the 1970s, U.S. Air Force aircraft averaged just 8 years in service. Today, that average age is 24 years with some of our bombers and tankers over 50 years old! Amazingly, the pilots who will fly our KC-135 refueling aircraft into its scheduled retirement date have not even been born yet. 

People remain at the heart of our success. We are shaping our Active, Guard and Reserve forces, while continuing to use the right combination of assignments, education and training, and experiences to deliberately develop our Airmen and to ensure a more agile and flexible Total Force. 

Our adaptability, lethality, and compassion in the air and on the ground have made the United States Air Force the most respected and feared combat power the world has ever known. On this Fourth of July, Air Force aircraft maintain 24/7 vigilance around the world and we continue to transform and conquer the challenges of today and tomorrow with success and pride. Our founders believed that all people were endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Air Force members deployed around the world are not only protecting those rights for Americans at home but also for millions of newly freed Iraqi and Afghan people and others living in oppression. Let us remember them and their families in our prayers and thoughts on this Fourth of July for their service and sacrifice. 

And as we give thanks for those Airmen who have and are deployed serving this great cause, we also recognize that the work we do at home day after day also supports the vision of the dedicated patriots who founded this great nation. We must not forget the Airmen who remain at home station -- often pulling 12-hour shifts and working weekends to cover for two or three co-workers who are deployed. We salute the neighbors and volunteers in local communities that help take care of families who have loved ones deployed. From mowing the deployed neighbor's lawn to unclogging the kitchen sink for the deployed member's spouse, our Air Force family is taken care of. 

Because of our commitment, here and abroad, this world will never be the same. The resounding words of one of our founders, Marie Joseph Lafayette, ring true today -- "Humanity has won its battle. Liberty now has a country." Indeed ... 230 years later Liberty still has a home - this land that we love ... the home of the brave.