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General Hester: Airmen staying on track

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- As times change in the Air Force environment, Airmen around the globe strive to change with them. Upon their recent visit to Eielson July 25 to 27, General Paul Hester, Pacific Air Forces Commander, and his wife Lynda, found that Icemen were right on track with those changes, while keeping their core priorities intact. 

General Hester last visited Eielson in November 2004, when the snow was deep and the temperatures cold. But the change in season did nothing to change his impression of the Iceman Team. 

"What was remarkable about that visit 20 months ago was how we watched Airmen working in a joint environment with their brethren here in the Army," General Hester said. "As we return now, this time in the beauty of the summer season, we find exactly the same thing--outstanding Airmen volunteering to do America's business, staying in harms way, always prepared." 

Enthusiasm and bright smiles are two things General and Mrs. Hester said they saw on both visits, but other things have changed. 

Two of the most noticeable changes are the upcoming move of Eielson's A-10 squadron following the base realignment and closure committee's decision in 2005, and the re-naming of the 353rd Combat Training Squadron's Cope Thunder to Red Flag-Alaska. 

The name change signals a paradigm shift to separate-but-equal combat training capability by Eielson and the original Red Flag host, Nellis AFB, Nev. 

"BRAC has impacted military communities and military bases all across the world as we have migrated some missions, as well as airplanes and people from overseas assignments; we've closed some bases in the mainland of the United States," General Hester said. 

"Eielson was a part of the BRAC realignment and shaping we've done. The A-10s will leave, they've already started with a couple of them, and they'll be gone by next summer."
These changes, to include the expanded mission of Red Flag-Alaska, will allow Eielson to be transformed into a more-visible centerpiece for combat training. 

"Red Flag-Alaska is a wonderful opportunity for us to use the great air, land and even sea space around Alaska to afford exercise scenarios we can't get in other places," he said. 

"The size of the Red Flag ranges up here in Alaska, at the PARC (Pacific Alaska Range Complex), is tremendously larger than the Red Flag ranges we have down in Nevada, yet the Nevada range complex is extraordinary," he said. "We think Alaska is going to be a real boost in how we prepare not only ourselves, but how we help prepare our allies in the Pacific and across the world to do the missions the nations will be called upon to do." 

During his stay at Eielson, General Hester visited the Red Flag facility among other base installations, but focused primarily on his people. 

General and Mrs. Hester visited the newly renovated 354th Logistics Readiness Squadron dormitories to see how some of Eielson's Airmen are living and stopped in at the North Star Café, the chapel-sponsored coffee house, where they met a number of Airmen who frequent the facility. 

Both General and Mrs. Hester said they were impressed with Eielson as a whole.
Mrs. Hester said she was highly impressed by the fantastic attitudes of Eielson's spouses, and that they should continue being such a large part of the community, both on and off base. She said to enjoy their time here because it doesn't last very long and she thinks the experience they take away will benefit them for life. 

General Hester said it is important to step back from the daily job being done and that this visit to Eielson was an opportunity for him to come up, embrace every Airman here, officer and enlisted, and tell them how much he appreciates what they are doing. 

"Take the opportunity to step back and realize exactly what we as individual Americans are doing in defense of our nation," he said. "As I go and interact with the civilian community, what I hear every day is to tell each one of those Airmen how much we appreciate them from the heartland of America, how much we think about them and keep them in our thoughts and prayers every day. So there's a message to each and every one of our Airmen, and that's simply, 'thank you.'"