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When the issues he must deal with to keep U.S. Air Forces in Europe on track press him, Gen. Roger A. Brady tackles them head on.
But he may not ponder a decision in front of a large map or before his combined staff. Instead, the general, who loves to draw, might do it while sketching on the big drawing pad he keeps on an easel in his well-appointed office at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
However, no matter where he makes his decisions, he knows the priorities of the 36,000-member command he took charge of Jan. 17, 2008, are the same as those of the Air Force.
“The war on terrorism — obviously, that’s job one. We have to win the current fight,” the general from Midwest City, Okla., said.
That’s a task in which the command — stretching from the Azores to Turkey and from the Arctic to Africa — has a heavy stake. But a lot has changed since the general served as the command’s director of plans and programs nine years ago.
There are fewer U.S. bases in Europe. And while dealing with military cutbacks, the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States caused a spike to the command workload. New missions in support of a two-front war stretched thin the command’s Airmen, resources and aging aircraft. On any given day, 2,500 to 2,700 command Airmen are serving at U.S. Central Command bases.
Still, General Brady said the command is doing a good job and gives it “an overall grade of B-plus to A-minus.” He doesn’t give it a solid A+ rating for a reason.
“I don’t want us to ever think that ‘we’ve arrived,’ because our challenges continue and you have to earn your wings each day. I want us to always be hungry — to be better,” said General Brady, a 1969 “Sooner” from the University of Oklahoma and Air Force ROTC graduate.
A student of history and political science, he knows the command is always in the public eye and that its mission can have far-reaching political consequences. And following in the footsteps of some well-known Air Force pioneers who had an impact on post-World War II Europe can be humbling, he said.
“I’m sitting in the seat once occupied by people like Curt LeMay, [Carl] Tooey Spaatz and Bill Tunner,” he said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity, and a tremendous honor, to command an organization that has a great legacy of both combat and humanitarian efforts.”
But it’s a new and important era in a post-Cold War Europe. Now it’s General Brady’s turn to deal with the issues that affect the command and its effectiveness.
“We have an opportunity, and a challenge, to continue to strengthen the relationship that has been so successful for the last 60 years,” he said.
It’s a tough job, no doubt. But the general is well-prepared to deal with the challenges. In his almost 40-year career, he’s flown tankers and transports. But he’s also had personnel, plans and acquisition, logistics and intelligence and operations posts.
“And for a guy with a limited attention span, that’s good,” the command pilot joked.
The son of a World War II Naval officer, the general said his many posts will also help him do his other three jobs. He also commands NATO’s Allied Air Component Command Ramstein, is air component commander for U.S. European Command and directs the Multinational Joint Air Power Competence Center.
What General Brady must do is clear. He must make sure the command meets its needs today, takes care of its Airmen and ensures it stays ready to win any future fight.
For USAFE to effectively do its day-to-day missions takes more than just the dedicated force it already has, the general said. It also means relying on other total force members to help do command missions. And it means maintaining and reinforcing relationships with Germany, NATO and America’s coalition partners. Plus, it means establishing ties with former Soviet Bloc nations who just joined, or lining up to join the alliance.
“Europe remains our primary trading partner. We have a shared history of sacrifice, a shared history of war and a shared history of coming to each other’s defense,” he said.
That strong bond was put to the test after the 9/11 attacks. General Brady said it’s worth noting the only time NATO invoked Article 5 of the North Atlantic Charter — which states an attack on one member nation is an attack on all — occurred after the terrorist attacks. It was an event most people thought would occur in Europe.
“NATO fulfilled its purpose when challenged,” he said. “It responded by sending AWACS to my hometown. So this is a proven team, a team that we must make sure is viable today and into the future for any challenges that come along.”
But sometimes it’s a challenge working with the alliance. Although members work toward the same goals, they have different ways to reach them. But strengthened by the successes of the Berlin Airlift and end of the Cold War, NATO has become “the most successful military alliance in history,” he said.
Keeping it that way is one of the general’s main tasks. And now, faced with the specter of global terrorism, the alliance has had to evolve yet again, General Brady said. Members now work outside their long-established geographic borders. These out-of-area operations, mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan, changed the role of NATO’s militaries from armed forces used to fighting in place, to expeditionary forces.
The fact alliance members face the same kind challenges the Air Force does hasn’t made the transition easier. Dealing with European air forces is like looking into a mirror, the general said. Most are downsizing and trying to replace old equipment on limited budgets.
And in many cases, American Airmen must pick up the slack.
But Airmen are Airmen, no matter what country they serve, the general said. He saw an example of that when he met with the Romanian air force chief and MiG-21 Fishbed pilots.
“Their pilots are just like our captains, eager young people who take pride in what they do,” he said. “Airmen are a universal breed and have a lot in common. We see things the same way.”
And while that may be true, most of the allied air forces don’t fly the same aircraft as U.S. Airmen. That’s why the command continues to forge new relationships with the Polish, Czech, Romanian and Bulgarian air forces, too.
Ensuring training with the old and new alliance partners is one of the duties high on General Brady’s list of things to continue doing. Because when the air forces train together, the alliance is “an even stronger force” he said. It’s a good reason the command is working closely with Bulgaria and Romania, which have some of the best, if not the best, training airspace in Europe, the general said.
The Airman factor
Behind the success of the command’s missions and working relations are the Airmen who do the work, the general said. Keeping up with the workload, they “continue the tradition of excellence the command has established over decades,” he said.
General Brady said the command’s continued success depends on how well its leaders take care of its most important weapon: its people. It’s his job to make sure Airmen are ready to do their varied missions and that they receive the right training and equipment to stay ready.
“That means education and development, facilities, taking care of their families — all of those things,” said the father of two, who is married to an Air Force “brat.” “We have to make sure we recapitalize our Airmen weapon system, as well as our hardware.”
In return, Airmen will get the job done, while streamlining the processes that are helping make the command more efficient. The general said allowing Airmen more leeway in finding better ways to do their jobs — and ensuring their leaders will listen — is a win-win situation.
“When you see that happen, you see great results,” General Brady said. “They’re working more efficiently and more effectively. It gives them more time to have a life outside of work. And they see the benefits of their initiatives.”
A look ahead
Seeing the end results is important, he said. But it’s not possible to precisely gauge what will happen even one year down the road. Still, it’s not hard for General Brady — who did his first tour of duty as an air intelligence officer at Da Nang Air Base, South Vietnam, during the Vietnam War — to see what the command must do in the future.
“We need to make sure we have the capabilities to win tomorrow, which means fielding the modern systems we need so we can prevail in the airspace tomorrow as we do today,” he said.
It’s also vital to continue to build and develop partnerships in the region, “so we can make sure we can interoperate with other air forces in Europe,” he said.
That includes helping these nations develop their capabilities under the command’s theater security cooperation program. Apart from flight operations, command Airmen are helping alliance members develop ways to integrate their air and ground systems with U.S. systems. And they are helping them improve their aircraft maintenance, supply, air traffic control and personnel systems — even developing professional NCO corps.
Whatever skills that are inherent to an air force are fair game for development, he said.
“This is not just an extra thing we do. This is a vital mission,” the general said. “We need to make sure that we do it right, that we do it in a systematic and integrated way and that we resource ourselves properly.”
But the command’s expansion won’t end in the former Soviet Bloc. New expansion is already on the horizon — south into Africa. The establishment of U.S. Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany, means new opportunities for USAFE, which will stand up 17th Air Force at to be the unified command’s air arm. Its mission will be to provide command and control of air forces supporting the new command.
General Brady hopes the new organization, which will have about 300 people, will be up and running before the scheduled AFRICOM stand-up dated of Oct. 1, 2008.
But, he said, “We’re trying to get it done by the Air Force’s birthday [Sept. 18].”
To help handle tasks requested by the new Africa command will require more air support. But some of the command’s aging C-130 Hercules, some of the oldest in the Air Force fleet, have restrictions in the loads they can carry, the general said.
“The good news is we’ll start replacing them — I think our first C-130J will show up early in calendar year 2009,” the general said. “So that’s something that we’re looking forward to, and part of what we’re doing in building for tomorrow.”
The command is also flying old KC-135 Stratotankers, which the general said the Air Force will replace when the service gets a new replacement tanker. And it is also due to bed down the F-35 Lighting II, Joint Strike Fighter, when it becomes available.
Transitioning to new weapon systems is just another job command Airmen do.
“That’s a huge job, but it’s something that we are excited about doing — continuing to build our capacity,” General Brady said.
General Brady knows accomplishing these tasks — while providing for Airmen who keep the command running and continuing relations with alliance partners — will reap future dividends.
The command’s success today and tomorrow will depend on one factor, the Airmen of whom he’s so proud, the general said. He delights in their energy, efforts, initiative and morale.
“But we can always look at ourselves and find areas where we can be doing things better — and we continue to do that,” he said.
On his sketch pad, General Brady had some half-finished drawings of faces. He’s convinced he’s not a very good artist, although several of his works are part of the Air Force Art Collection.
“I don’t think they had the nerve to tell me no,” he quipped.
But like an artist, he’s always looking to add the details — to what is his European canvas — that will help make U.S. Air Forces in Europe continue its 60-year legacy of airpower.
Louis A. Arana-Barradas
Reprinted from Airman Magazine, Sept/Oct 2008