A list for success helps today's battlefield Airman

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Richard Matton
  • 374th Operations Group deputy commander
Every Marine, a Rifleman!

So goes one of the most well known credos of the United States Marine Corps.

Like us Airmen, Marines each have their own specialties. But the bottom line for the Marines is that no matter what their specialty happens to be, they are riflemen first.

Historically as our nation's first expeditionary force, Marines must be extremely skilled at their most basic function: Infantry.

Now I know most of you are saying, "Okay, I get it, but how does this affect me?"

As members of today's Expeditionary Air Force, we are continuously getting called to duties that have traditionally been ground force responsibilities.

Just as an example, the increasingly common "in-lieu-of" missions have Air Force personnel performing tasks such as convoy escort duty or acting as liaison officers within tactical teams in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Team Yokota is certainly no exception to this paradigm shift. Last year, more than 1,600 Yokota Airmen deployed to the Central Command Area of Responsibility.

Once in place at their deployed location, these Airmen were routinely called upon to perform duties not necessarily associated with their career field. This wartime requirement for the "battlefield Airman" is something not likely to go away anytime soon.

Even if the war in Iraq were to end tomorrow, the United States will likely be fighting the war on terror for years to come. This means that Airmen must continue to gain skill sets geared toward maximizing their opportunities for success on the battlefield.

If there's any question in your mind as to that requirement, look no further than what's happening to the Air Force's Basic Military Training program at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

Starting in the fall of 2007, new recruits will be going through two additional weeks of BMT in an effort to expose our new Airmen to combat conditions not unlike those that they will more than likely face soon after graduation.

Look further, and you'll find that the Air Force is altering many of its traditional schools to accommodate the wider range of skills required of our Airmen today.

The fact that the Air Force plans to establish a "Center of Excellence for Common Battlefield Airman Training" at a base to be named later should tell you that our senior leaders are serious about instilling the warrior mindset in today's Airmen.

All this talk about expanded skill sets really only serves to further solidify "flexibility" as one of the tenets of airpower.

However, not even our service's founders could have predicted the flexibility required of today's Airmen.
So, how do you prepare for this new world order as a member of the Air Force? I would suggest a three-point short list for this tall order.

First, we all need to maintain a higher degree of physical fitness. There needs to be more to our fitness culture than simply passing the Air Force Physical Training test. This should not be anything new to us.

More than three years ago, the Chief of Staff released Air Force Instruction 10-248, "Fitness Program."

The fact that this AFI was released as a 10 - series publication meant that it fell into the "Operations" category of directives.

This is no coincidence; the Air Force finally got serious about fitness as an operational issue.
One of the early chapters of the AFI states: "Physical training time must be included as an integral part of mission requirements."

Take advantage of the fact that the Air Force has mandated that getting in shape is part of your duties as an Airman.

Summer is fast approaching both here and in the desert. This means that we will be combating heat-related injuries as well as terrorists. Couple that with our more physically demanding tasks on the battlefield and you will quickly come to the conclusion that there is simply no substitute for sound physical fitness. 

Second, it's all about mindset. Today, as Air Force members, we must understand that our mission will (not may) involve tasks like playing an active role in our own force protection in addition to the more traditional tasks related to flying operations.

While "Every Airman, a Rifleman" may not be an appropriate credo for us, today's Air Force is defining itself on the ground as well as in the air. These are both exciting and trying times for us as a service, and we must rely on what has made us great.

As alluded to earlier, one of the qualities that define us, as Airmen, is our inherent flexibility. The degree of flexibility we possess has now been extended from that demonstrated in the air operations envisioned by our Service's founders to the myriad of ground operations we perform in today's combat environment.

Whether in-garrison or deployed, we must be ready to carry out missions across a broad spectrum of operations, both in the air and on the ground.

Accepting and embracing the mindset that the Air Force mission of "Fly, Fight, and Win" means the "Fight" may be on the ground as well as the air, will go a long way to success on today's battlefield. 

Finally, I would like to encourage personal, professional development as part of your preparation. Reading inspirational books is a great way to accomplish this.

As an example, the Commandant of the Marine Corps has a book on his required reading list for all Marines (regardless of rank) entitled Rifleman Dodd.

Written by C.S. Forester, this is a short, relatively simple story about a light infantryman who is called upon to go beyond his primary area of expertise. The book's emphasis on honor, courage, and commitment, is a great lesson for us as Airmen as well as for the Marines.

It is truly an inspiring book that can show us the determination, innovation and physical toughness that today's Airmen must possess to succeed on the battlefields of today, and I believe, tomorrow.

As our senior leaders have told us many times, we are in a protracted war against the terrorists. This war doesn't show signs of ending any time soon. We must be ready to assume new and increased responsibilities to do our part and give us the only acceptable end result: Victory!