AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar, –
“Thank you for your service. What you’re doing here means so much to me as your commander, to our nation back home, and our coalition.”
This was the resounding sentiment expressed to Air Forces Central Command Airmen by U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Joseph T. Guastella Jr., U.S. Air Forces Central Command commander, and U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Shawn L. Drinkard, AFCENT Command chief, March 6.
Before addressing AFCENT Airmen at the Combined Air Operations Center, the command team was able to visit several locations across the region to include Kandahar, Afghanistan. Kandahar Airfield hosts the 430th Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron, which recently lost two Airmen when their E-11A crashed in Ghazni Province on Jan. 27. Guastella and Drinkard went to check in on the troops’ well-being and morale and said they found a resilient and ready group. Guastella said the Airmen who made the ultimate sacrifice will long be remembered through those who knew them. In addition to honoring the memory of the fallen Airmen, the AFCENT commander had a message for those who continue to serve their nation in harm’s way.
“So many of you are away from your families,” Guastella said. “That is a sacrifice in itself — one that does not go unnoticed. Know that your sacrifice is making an enormous difference and we thank you for it.”
Guastella and Drinkard also visited Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There they witnessed one of the most austere bases in the region but sensed morale was unaffected by their environment.
“The strategic basing of [Prince Sultan Air Base] has brought our coalition added operational depth to make our deterrence effort more formidable,” Guastella said. “The morale there is some of the highest I’ve seen in the [area of responsibility] and I am incredibly proud of the great job they’re doing.”
The general and chief also recently visited Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, which was recently struck by 11 theater ballistic missiles fired by Iran in retaliation for the Jan. 3 airstrike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force.
The missile attack caused no fatalities but some service members are being screened for traumatic brain injury. The command team was able to meet with many of the Airman and Soldiers who were at Al Asad when the attack happened.
“The leadership there was exceptional, they made phenomenal, hard decisions with limited time,” Guastella said. “It was inspirational, especially considering the pressure they were under.”
Guastella noted that the warning time U.S. troops were offered was no accident. In the Master Control Station at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado, junior space operators were directly responsible for ensuring that timely and accurate missile warning was received by those threatened over 8,000 miles away. On the operations floor of the 2nd Space Warning Squadron at Buckley AFB, space operators leveraged space-based warning satellites to instantly detect the heat signature of the Iranian missiles at launch. The infrared “hits” were rapidly assessed in order to accurately determine key information like missile type, trajectory, and most importantly, possible impact areas. With this information, they immediately reported the threats and all available information to the U.S. Central Command area of operations. As a result, Airmen were given the time they needed to protect themselves.
Guastella then pivoted to speak to AFCENT Airmen about another topic of interest, COVID-19, also better known as the Corona virus.
“Our number one priority is your safety,” Guastella said. “We are focused on you, first, but we also have an eye towards keeping our mission going and the flow of logistics that enable everything we do.”
“Rest assured that we are equipped to handle this,” he said.
Drinkard stepped in to emphasize the magnitude of what AFCENT Airmen are doing.
“It is really humbling to stand with you all — the most talented and committed people,” Drinkard said. “What we do here is not routine, and our bases depend on us to move at the speed of conflict and not the speed of bureaucracy.”
Drinkard further elaborated that the innovation and adaptation he has seen in his tenure here as the command chief has been second to none. He mentioned that it is the innovation that gives AFCENT its edge and enables success.
“If you are just getting here, lace up your boot straps and let’s go,” Drinkard said. “If you’re half way finished with your tour, keep going hard and don’t lose momentum; if you’re about to leave, we need you lean in and cross the finish line strong — lethal, ready and resilient.”