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Commentary: 1st Expeditionary Theater Support Group (ETSG)

  • Published
  • By Col. Glenn S. Cameron, Commander, 1 Expeditionary Theater Support Group
  • Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central) Public Affairs

Born out of necessity, the 1st Expeditionary Theater Support Group (ETSG) has continually proven its worth to help reduce the see-do gap between the long-term strategic planning of AFCENT staff and the tactical daily mission at the Air Expeditionary Wings (AEWs) through its first year of existence.  For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of the ETSG, you are not alone. I too had not heard of the organization until shortly before the day I assumed responsibility as the group’s first commander.  To oversimplify, the ETSG is a Mission Support Group, minus Security Forces, for several locations throughout the Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) Area of Responsibility (AOR) that are not located at one of the five established AEWs. 

A Direct Reporting Operational Unit to the AFCENT Commander, this group-above-wing-echelon theater asset has an emphasis in Contracting, Communications, Civil Engineer Services and Logistics (C3L).  One of the ETSG’s main objectives is campaigning and setting the theater for Agile Combat Employment (ACE). Since its inception, we have executed operations in 12 countries and at 22 sites throughout the AOR.  The ETSG focuses on three major lines of effort (LOE), banded by a fourth overarching innovation initiative.  All these efforts have been influenced heavily by our determination to capture lessons learned from our most recent missions providing Base Operating Support Integrator (BOS-I) during heightened regional tensions and operations.

The team’s top priority, Setting the Theater, prepares additional operational locations based on site surveys and Airfield Pavement Evaluations.  Once sites are established, we began the difficult tasks of prepositioning vital equipment, creating detailed bed down plans, contracting local support services, establishing communications nodes, and executing ground preparation engineering projects.  Newly established locations allow the Combatant Commander an array of options, with a reduced reactionary time, to respond to a sometimes-unpredictable enemy.  Ultimately, the team executes established requirements through a combination of episodic military labor and contract augmentation, to ensure mission readiness and bolster our deterrence posture to avoid any increased regional conflict.

The second priority focuses on actions to Support the Theater.  Despite a much smaller footprint than originally envisioned, our team of subject matter experts (SMEs) provide the command and control of vital services throughout the AOR through a creative blending of command relations.  The Crash Fire Rescue Quick Strike Team conducted operations in Egypt, Syria, and other locations, enabling ACE air operations with an increased layer of safety for their fellow Airmen.  The Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) experts led exercises and inspections to guarantee our reactionary posture at AEWs and beyond.  The Future Plans and Logistics team managed the only rubber removal and paint striping capability throughout the AOR ensuring these low density, high demand assets were in the right place at the right time for the right effect; delivering exactly what’s intended – supporting the theater.

The third priority, Long Term Posture of the Theater, was led by a fusion of Civil Engineers, Communications and Cyber experts, as well as Acquisition Program Managers.  Leading the Air Force’s largest Project Management Office (PMO), the ETSG is responsible for the management, coordination, and Partner Nation engagement for $11B in host-nation funded construction. This includes multiple bases within the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) AOR, plus the remaining US-funded Military Construction (MILCON) throughout the AOR.  Additionally, charged with verifying the facilities are in compliance and functional via the long haul communication systems installations to ensure redundancy for mission capability.  These developments and efforts continue to showcase the United States’ enduring presence in CENTCOM AOR and foreshadow long and robust coalition partnerships with a common goal of regional and global stability.

Our final priority, Innovation for the Theater, underpins everything central to the conception of the ETSG--finding ways to effectively do more with less.  For example, coupling Airmen with new technologies like Artificial Intelligence monitoring systems creates an opportunity to enhance site security and asset management for greater mission effectiveness.  Finding these process improvements and breaking the paradigm of historical precedence allows the reduction of personnel, placing precious resources exactly where they most need to be. 

Despite the remarkable growth and adaptation of technology, the most impressive innovation from the ETSG has been our ability to be an exemplar of the lighter, more agile, and capabilities-focused end state for the Air Force’s new force presentation.  The ETSG is a small team of experts forced to reevaluate how we do business, not because our old ways were wrong, but because the environment in which we operate has evolved.   Recently an ETSG team of five individuals redeployed to one of our pre-established sites within 32 hours of notification.  The team was able to execute BOS-I for 150-person joint force in support of humanitarian operations five days later, a demonstration of our forward leaning aggressive posturing to effectively support mission with little to no notice.

The only way to victory is through change, more specifically collaborative evolution.  In today’s environment, change must happen quickly.  In the Global Power Competition showdown, triumph comes to those not intimidated by evolving.  The Case for Change has been validated multiple times since the onset of the Israel-Hamas conflict and regional instability – we must shift from functional communities to prioritize organizational alignment that delivers capabilities to the Commander.

Now we all must prepare, sharpen our skills, and ready our minds with the primary goal of deterrence. War is never a foregone conclusion; however, our ability to be Mission Ready Airman will be a daily effort and focus to achieve our national objectives as required by leadership and expected by the American people.  Through innovation and good old fashion hard work, the 1 ETSG and its trailblazing members will continue to lead the way.