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Lt. Gen. Goldfein: An Iraq end-of-mission message

  • Published
  • By Lt. Gen. Dave Goldfein
  • U.S. Air Forces Central
As we enter the 2012 fighting season, I wanted to share what the final days in Iraq felt like here in the AOR [area of responsibility]. Many of us have spent the majority of our adult lives engaged in the campaigns to first free Kuwait, then contain Iraq and then free Iraq. For our Airmen, it is all most have ever known.

We have good reason to stand tall today.

Dec. 19 marked the first day since Jan. 17, 1991 that we did not produce or fly an air tasking order (ATO) in Iraq, a time frame that spanned from Gen. Charles A. Horner through Gen. Gilmary M. Hostage with 10 classes of Combined Forces Air Component Commanders (CFACC), Deputy Combined Forces Air Component Commanders (DCFACC), Air Component Coordination Elements (ACCE) and Command Chief Master Sergeants (CCC) in between. Here's just a small sampling of what we accomplished for the joint team:
  • We produced and flew 7,635 air tasking orders.
  • Fully supported by fellow Airmen across the globe, we generated over 500,000 sorties producing top cover for the joint team.
  • Fighter and bomber crews working with our Joint Terminal Air Controllers (JTACs) elevated responsive Airpower to a new level as aircraft routinely arrived overhead in less than nine minutes from the moment JTACs called for fires ... in countries larger than the great state of Texas.
  • Just since the fall of Baghdad in 2003, remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) crews operating out of Creech Air Force Base, Nev. and Beale Air Force Base, Calif., (along with a number of other bases) flew over 415,000 hours of persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) while our analysts in all five distributed common ground systems (DCGS) sites processed over 50,000 images for the joint team.
  • Mobility crews moved over two million short tons of cargo and four and a half million passengers as sometimes the only secure means of resourcing the mission and mastered the art of life-saving aerial delivery.
  • Engineers opened 206 operating locations and then closed them all ahead of schedule.
  • Ammo troops built, delivered, and loaded tens of thousands of munitions delivered with unprecedented precision and success.
  • Every hour of every day and night our Defenders stood guard, accumulating over 183,000 hours as our sentinels.
  • All of this while our joint expeditionary tasking (JET) Airmen led convoys, built infrastructure, negotiated with tribal leaders, trained and mentored their Iraqi counterparts, conducted maintenance on sister service vehicles, eliminated improvised explosive devices-in essence, helped Iraq build a foundation for the future as we supported our joint and coalition partners.
Which brings us to the final days of our 21-year joint effort. The final muscle movements for our retrograde out of Iraq started Dec. 17 when the last C-17 Globemaster III took off out of Talil at 1824 Zulu. Directing the C-17 to the runway were Iraqi air traffic controllers trained and certified by Maj. Gen. Tony Rock's mentors. As the aircraft climbed out on its routing to an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, the controllers asked the pilots to "wish their American friends a safe journey".

The following morning the last ground tactical convoy crossed the border into Southwest Asia at 0438 Zulu. Sitting beside their battle buddies, Air Force JTACs kept their radios close just in case there was a need for a final call for Airpower. Providing top cover that day was a blanket of Airpower including four F-16C/J Fighting Falcons, eight MQ-1 Predators, one RQ-4B Global Hawk, one U.S. Navy P-3 Orion, one E-8 Joint STARS, one U-2 Dragon Lady, and one KC-10 Extender. The 9th Carrier Air Wing from the 3rd Strike Group aboard the USS Stennis had assets airborne and in reserve on the deck while underway in the Northern Arabian Gulf.

In addition to those flying, we maintained forces on ground alert as well. An Iraqi controller informed Red Tail 1 from the famed Tuskegee Airmen that his two F-16's were the last U.S.-manned aircraft in Iraq. After one final circle of the airspace, they departed at 0555 Zulu and the last remotely piloted aircraft, an MQ-1, followed at 2118 Zulu. A chapter was closed.

While there are challenges ahead for Iraq, no one should ever question the staying power of the U.S. and its Allies. For 21 years, the long blue stood side by side with our joint and coalition teammates operating in air, space, and cyberspace and helped open a door for the Iraqi people and their elected leaders. As we work to maintain the momentum in Afghanistan and around the region, we have good reason to stand tall.

It is a great day to be an Airman on the joint team.

Lt. Gen. Dave Goldfein
Combined Forces Air Component Commander