Standing on the shoulders of giants

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. - Fire trucks create a water "curtain" over a KC-135 
Stratotanker piloted by Lt. Gen. Robert R. Allardice, 18th Air Force 
Commander, here Sept. 13. The flight took Allardice past the 5,000 flight hour 
milestone and represented one of his last flights as 18th Air Force Commander. 
General Allardice hands over command to Lt. Gen. Mark F. Ramsay Sept. 23 as he 
goes on to his next assignment as Vice Commander of Air Mobility Command. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Divine Cox, 375 Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs)

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. - Fire trucks create a water "curtain" over a KC-135 Stratotanker piloted by Lt. Gen. Robert R. Allardice, 18th Air Force Commander, here Sept. 13. The flight took Allardice past the 5,000 flight hour milestone and represented one of his last flights as 18th Air Force Commander. General Allardice hands over command to Lt. Gen. Mark F. Ramsay Sept. 23 as he goes on to his next assignment as Vice Commander of Air Mobility Command. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Divine Cox, 375 Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs)

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. - Lt. Gen. Robert R. Allardice, 18th Air Force Commander, gives a "thumbs up" after landing a KC-135 Stratotanker here Sept. 13. The flight took Allardice past the 5,000 flight hour milestone and represented one of his last flights as 18th Air Force Commander. General Allardice hands over command to Lt. Gen. Mark F. Ramsay Sept. 23 as he goes on to his next assignment as Vice Commander of Air Mobility Command. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Divine Cox, 375 Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs).

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. - Lt. Gen. Robert R. Allardice, 18th Air Force Commander, gives a "thumbs up" after landing a KC-135 Stratotanker here Sept. 13. The flight took Allardice past the 5,000 flight hour milestone and represented one of his last flights as 18th Air Force Commander. General Allardice hands over command to Lt. Gen. Mark F. Ramsay Sept. 23 as he goes on to his next assignment as Vice Commander of Air Mobility Command. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Divine Cox, 375 Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs).

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- "I feel like today we stand on the shoulders of giants, fellow Airmen who have endured with incredible purpose, Airmen who have endured incredible perils," said Lt. Gen. Robert R. Allardice when he assumed command of the 18th Air Force here Aug. 19, 2009.

Over the course of the next two years the Airmen "giants" of the 18th Air Force have continued to endure, answering the call to help others in the midst of often extremely challenging circumstances.

Since that day in August, the Airmen of the Air Force's largest Numbered Air Force (and Air Mobility Command's only NAF) have successfully carried out their global mission of air refueling and strategic airlift, flying more than 249,000 airlift sorties; offloading more than two billion pounds of fuel supporting commanders worldwide; and transporting more than 4.1 million passengers, 1.4 million tons of cargo and 50,000 patients through aeromedical evacuation (with an average 98% survival rate for wounded patients).

However, the numbers, while impressive, only tell part of the story.

In the wake of the Haiti earthquake in January 2010, the command's Airmen were on the ground in less than 48 hours, applying their expertise to coordinate the massive flow of relief supplies into the Port-au-Prince airport. Their efforts ultimately led to the air delivery of nearly 14,000 tons of relief supplies and the evacuation of more than 27,000 people to safety.

Later that year, disaster struck once again as record flooding in Pakistan led to a humanitarian crisis that left 15,000 dead and nearly two million displaced. Again, 18th Air Force Airmen sprang into action, delivering more than 430,000 halal meals and airlifting U.S. Army and Marine Corps helicopter units from the U.S. to assist with the distribution of the international humanitarian aid.

"What you see time and again with the men and women who make up our global mobility enterprise is a readiness and commitment to go anywhere in the world, with little or no notice and in the face of some incredible logistical challenges, in order to get the job done," General Allardice said. "That commitment comes from knowing just how important that mission is and how it can literally touch - and save - thousands of lives at any one time."

By themselves, the operations in Haiti and Pakistan are impressive, but are even more so when one considers that they occurred against a backdrop of several large, ongoing commitments including the drawdown of forces in Iraq and the presidential-directed surge of forces into Afghanistan. However, the ability to successfully carry out multiple demanding missions simultaneously remains a hallmark of the 18th Air Force, and one that was recently illustrated during the so-called "March Madness" of 2011.

At the start of the "Arab Spring", as instability began to spread throughout the Middle East, 18th Air Force planners quietly went to work, preparing for possible humanitarian support and the evacuation of noncombatants. However, in the midst of their efforts, a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. 18th Air Force Airmen immediately moved to assist, rushing search and rescue teams, generators, and fresh water to the stricken region while simultaneously sending planners and liaisons to help direct those efforts. Working alongside commercial partners, the 18th Air Force also helped plan and execute the return of nearly 7,800 American citizens back to the U.S., opening up Travis Air Force Base, Calif., to them after civilian airports were overwhelmed.

The events in Japan were just the beginning of March Madness. As the situation in Libya deteriorated, previous planning efforts began to pay off. In the wake of the United Nations Security Council's imposition of a no fly zone over the country, a total force team of mobility Airmen and tanker aircraft from the active duty and air reserve components was on its way to Western Europe. Almost immediately upon arrival, this team provided the fuel to Coalition aircraft enforcing the no fly zone, giving critical support to international efforts designed to save innocent lives.

"I think one of the things that March Madness showed us was the flexibility of our enterprise - and the Airmen who were and are still part of it," General Allardice said. "In our business, we have to be able to turn on a dime; to move and adapt our structure in response to rapidly changing situations. We've been able to do that precisely because we have this amazing team of people who work in constant collaboration. They identify what's on the horizon, the challenges, and what we need to do to stay ahead of them in order to be successful."

The diversity of that "amazing team" has been one of the keys to its success, according to General Allardice, acknowledging the total force make-up of the command: Guardsmen, Reservists and active duty Airmen.

"It would be impossible to do what we do without the seamless integration of the total force," said General Allardice. "Not only does it ensure we can meet our requirements, the reserve component also brings commercial sector expertise that helps us develop new and innovative approaches to the mission. Ultimately it is about ensuring the flexibility we need to get the job done."

That flexibility has remained at the forefront of 18th Air Force operations, whether it means standing ready to provide air refueling capability to U.S. Strategic Command in the command's role as STRATCOM's Task Force 294 or by accomplishing several notable air mobility firsts.

Among the historic firsts was the historic June C-5M flight from the U.S., over Canada, into the Arctic Circle, then back down through Russian and Kazakhstan airspace to Afghanistan. The flight, the first of its kind for an Air Force aircraft, paved the way for more efficient operations into and out of the Central Command area of responsibility. In addition, the command's Airmen made history again with the first-ever C-17 Globemaster III mid-winter Antarctic rescue mission. Facing challenging weather conditions and operating with night-vision goggles in the seasonally dark environment, 18th Air Force Airmen were able to successfully evacuate an ailing government contractor to medical care from a scientific outpost in Antarctica.

Not long after the rescue in Antarctica, the 18th Air Force was once again in action, this time in response to Hurricane Irene. As the storm bore down on the east coast, the command moved mobility planners to key locations and evacuated aircraft and contingency response teams from affected bases to ensure their readiness to support civilian authorities after the storm passed. In addition, aeromedical evacuation teams were also placed on alert to provide assistance. As Hurricane Irene turned into Tropical Storm Irene and began to wind down, 18th Air Force personnel were already looking ahead to anticipate other "storms" on the horizon, whether they were based on the weather or global instability.

Although General Allardice departs the command in September bound for his next assignment as the vice commander of Air Mobility Command, he takes with him a sense of accomplishment and pride in the Airmen he says he has been privileged to lead for the last two years.

"I have been honored to have the opportunity to serve alongside the incredible men and women of our 18th Air Force. No matter how difficult the mission or how intense the demand, this team has and continues to stand ready to answer the call to help others prevail. Our fellow citizens can live their lives the way they want because these Airmen, both in uniform and in civilian clothes, are hard at work on their behalf every single day," General Allardice said.