SOUTHWEST ASIA -- There is an area near many flightlines where items wait to be loaded onto aircraft. Toyotas lined up hood to bumper, resembling rush-hour traffic jams. Pallets stacked with bags of rice or ammunition sitting in precise rows. Armored vehicles waiting to be started up so they can head to the flightline and join the fight.
This may seem all too familiar for aerial porters and loadmasters, but to one Airman, these items tell a far greater story.
“The story of a battle about to break out or a conflict winding down are narrated by the type, amount, destination and urgency of cargo being processed and airlifted in and out of the aerial port terminal,” said Tech Sgt. Ronald Gowen, a logistician assigned to the 387th Air Expeditionary Squadron.
Though he’s performing a standard Air Force job in ensuring supplies make it to the front line, Gowen’s deployed experience is different from many other Airmen. He is assigned specifically to support non-Air Force units. His unique skills as an Airman are in high demand by sister-service elements engaged in the fight against Da’esh.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein recently outlined his vision for a future where Airmen are called upon more and more often to work in joint environments.
“It is essential we strengthen the development of Airmen who are not only steeped in the business of Airpower but also knowledgeable in how to optimize every component as part of a Joint Task Force,” Goldfein wrote in a letter to Airmen published earlier this year.
When highly specialized Airmen like Gowen are assigned to joint units engaged in Operation Inherent Resolve, the 387th AES is there to provide for their administrative care and feeding, ensuring they have a direct line back to their home service. The squadron is responsible for more than 300 joint Airmen deployed in 10 to 12 different countries, said Lt. Col. Sang Kim, 387th AES commander.
“Over the years, I think the Air Force has been doing very well and continues to grow in joint environments, providing these critical skill sets to really make an impact in the fight,” said Kim. “Our efforts supporting Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve is a prime example of our joint Airmen doing that mission.”
For Airmen, working with other services can bring unique challenges. There are often miscommunications and difficulties as a result of the different cultures and languages that exist within each branch.
The 387th AES helps mitigate these cultural differences by opening the lines of communication. They make it a priority to regularly meet with their Airmen’s tactical supervisors from other services in order to forge partnerships and assist with managing their Airmen, explained Kim.
Though it seems to run counter to popular perceptions about the Air Force, providing support to joint units isn’t new to many Airmen. Gowen and others like him have years of experience operating with other services.
“Throughout my other four deployments, working alongside other sister services or allied nations was the norm,” said Gowen. “I have worked closely with the Army at a Joint Mobility Operations Center as we directed rotary wing airflow and coordinated the fixed wing ramp operations simultaneously. I have also been a part of a seven-person team of aerial porters that deployed to Forward Operating Base Farah, Afghanistan, under Navy command to orchestrate air transport and advisory in expediting the redeployment of the Navy, Marine Corps and Army units along with the Italian Brigade personnel and equipment for base closure.”
Much like the process aerial porters go through getting supplies from point A to B, the Air Force must also continue to manage joint Airmen as they are sent to various locations, Kim said. Maintaining communication with Airmen assigned to joint units around the region remains a primary focus of his unit.
“We provide (our Airmen) with operational and administrative control at their geographically separated locations and ensure open communication with our team members and their joint chain of command,” said Kim. “Finally, we conduct battlefield circulations into multiple regions of the combined joint operations area to strengthen relationships and check on our (Airmen) supporting OIR’s primary mission to defeat Da’esh.”
Just like the Toyotas and ammunition waiting to be shipped down range, service members on the front lines can’t do their jobs without support from Airmen. The unique skillsets Gowen and his Air Force brethren bring to the joint fight strengthens the connections between sister service units and provides the nation that competitive advantage needed to win the fight against Da’esh.