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18th AF/CC visits GFAFB, outlines mission priorities

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE - Most Grand Forks airmen understand their chain of command from the squadron level through the wing and then from the wing to Air Mobility Command and up to the president. One link in that chain that may be a little le...

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE - Most Grand Forks airmen understand their chain of command from the squadron level through the wing and then from the wing to Air Mobility Command and up to the president. One link in that chain that may be a little less understood is the 18th Air Force. Maj. Gen. James Hawkins, 18th AF commander, braved temperatures plummeting below -20 to visit the base Jan. 19. While here, he explained the mission of AMC's war fighting arm and the Air Force's largest numbered Air Force.

"18th Air Force is responsible for tasking and executing all air mobility missions," the general said. "It is made up of 12 wings, three groups, two expeditionary mobility task forces and the 618th Tanker Airlift Control Center. Simply put, AMC is responsible for organizing, training and equipping mobility forces, while 18th AF is responsible for executing the mobility mission and serves as AMC's war fighting headquarters."

As the sole numbered Air Force in AMC, 18th AF is extremely busy. With mobility assets in such high demand by combatant commanders, the 18th AF continually sets new records. According to Hawkins, Jan. 16 marked one such milestone when the 618 TACC set a new record, providing command and control for 1,039 missions in a 24-hour period - or one departure every 83 seconds.

Providing combat-ready, mobility airmen to combatant commanders is just one of Hawkins' priorities. In addition to winning the Global War on Terror, the general's priorities also include caring for airmen and their families and modernizing the fleet, priorities that are shared by the AMC commander and the Air Force Chief of Staff.

The recent grounding of the F-15 fleet highlighted the dramatic effect age has on an aircraft. The F-15 was produced in the early '70s. The majority of the tanker fleet is more than 50 years old. The advanced age of a weapon system so vital to the projection of airpower makes the KC-X the Air Force's number one acquisition priority.

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"Airmen need the right tools to do their jobs; we must recapitalize and modernize our aging air and space fleets," Hawkins said. "We're looking for a decision to be made next month at the Air Staff level as to who is going to be the producer of the KC-X."

Another top priority for the general is caring for airmen and their families. According to Hawkins, Grand Forks Air Force Base is doing a very good job of that. The facilities and services offered by the wing are remarkable. But caring for airmen isn't limited to facilities.

"Roughly 10 percent of the wing is deployed now," Hawkins said. "Airmen are separated from their families for long periods of time, more than 180 days in some cases. It's important we continue to limit the stressors and care for the Air Force's No. 1 resource - its people."

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