Readiness -- an operational imperative

  • Published
  • By Brig. Gen. C.K. Hyde
  • 86th Airlift Wing commander
"Train like you fight." As Airmen, we are familiar with this saying, but it is more than a "bumper sticker" -- it is literally life or death in war fighting.

The world remains a dangerous place and Airmen delivering combat power from air, space and cyberspace will increasingly be called upon to fly, fight and win, especially as we draw down in Afghanistan. Our ability to defeat adaptive enemies, meet emerging threats, and take advantage of strategic opportunities will depend upon our readiness -- readiness that is instantly available. Today's operational environment is complex and dynamic and will not afford the opportunity for extensive pre-mission training and extended force build-up. In Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom we had regional access and sanctuary to build up our forces and set conditions for follow-on operations. Past wars are rarely repeated and we should not count on similar advantages of time and space to increase our readiness. We must focus on quality training, which delivers operational readiness in everything we do. Every sortie we fly, every time we step into our duty locations, every wrench we turn, and every time we accomplish our primary duties, we should do so with an end state in mind -- to develop the skills needed to win.

Our mission requires innovation, modern training methods and a commitment to continuous improvement to deliver individual, unit and installation readiness.

Individual Readiness
Airmen are our most important assets. As leaders, our goal should be to develop professional Airmen and warriors -- not just to make them feel good in a temporary way, but to challenge them and give them the skills to succeed long term. To develop ready Airmen, we must expand their opportunities and get them out of their comfort zone -- that's when war-winning innovation and growth occur.

As Airmen, our personal responsibility is maintaining readiness to fight -- anywhere, anytime -- and upholding our personal commitment to our fellow Airmen that we will not let them down. In a smaller Air Force, the value of every Airman increases. We must seek out opportunities to develop professionally both in and out of the workplace. Our success in joint and combined operations depends on professional Airmen executing Air Force core competencies.

Unit Readiness
War and the employment of military capabilities are team endeavors. The ability of the 86th Airlift Wing to provide combat airlift and deploy mission-ready teams depends on the preparation and readiness developed at the unit (squadron) level. The squadron is the Air Force's basic fighting unit and is where we build our wing's strong foundation. Squadron and unit readiness, which integrates individual skills into teams in order to accomplish a mission, ultimately determines our operational success.

Each squadron must make unit war-fighting skills an integral part of home station training. Our Airmen have displayed innovative leadership as part of expeditionary units and are the most combat experienced force we have ever had. Our home station units have deployed superb Airmen, but unit war-fighting skills have predominately been the domain of expeditionary units. This must change. Our home station squadrons must be the catalyst and driving force behind unit readiness. If we do not make this change in focus and attitude, we will not be ready for the "come as you are" wars of the future, and our combat-experienced Airmen will become frustrated with a "garrison mentality" that does not challenge them and take advantage of leadership developed in the crucible of war.

Installation Readiness
Installation readiness is essential to the delivery of air, space and cyber power. The second part of our wing's mission is to operate the Air Force's premier installation to enable and assure strategic capabilities are achieved through installation readiness. Air Force bases are more than peacetime garrisons; they are war-fighting "platforms" that have unique readiness requirements. Our ability to conduct global operations is enabled by the security, infrastructure, command and control and capabilities of Ramstein. We must be able to "fight the base" by integrating joint and total force capabilities without significant start-up times. Installation readiness is a force multiplier for combatant commanders and requires dedicated exercises and training which develop robust teams and redundant infrastructure.

The 86th Airlift Wing Master Readiness Plan is the tool we use to develop and integrate unit- and base-level training.

Our readiness plan is strong with 38 exercises this calendar year. To break that down even further, we have 44 exercise days and 98 combat-focused training days this year. These exercises run the gamut from small unit training to full spectrum operational readiness exercises. The success of our base starts with these training opportunities, but we must do better as our combat skills become more dependent upon home station training as current conflicts subside.

Freedom is not defended in one conflict or season; it is defended over time by combat-ready Airmen, war-fighting units and the installations that enable combat power in air, space and cyber domains. Individual, unit and installation readiness will determine our success in future contingencies that our current force and future Airmen will confront. Our legacy will be the readiness that is the foundation of their success.