United States Forces - Iraq Blog

Top airman exits Iraq proud of mission

CAMP VICTORY – After spending more than a year-and-a-half coordinating U.S. airpower here while helping to ensure our force level drew down to 50,000, the senior U.S. Air Force airman in Iraq is headed home.

Serving as the Director of the Air Component Coordination Element here, the Director of the USF-I Force Strategic Engagement Cell, and the 9th Air Expeditionary Task Force – Baghdad Detachment-2 Commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph Reynes Jr. has watched the number of U.S. service members here decrease from 148,000 to around 50,000, to include a decrease in airmen from more than 12,000 to less than 6,000.

Reynes recently explained the mission our Air Force conducted here during his tenure.

“We’ve provided timely and precise air mobility,” he said. “We’ve had 24/7 unblinking [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] to cover and work with our joint force partners. And then, of course, we’ve had kinetic and non-kinetic operations at the discretion of the commanders in support of their missions.

“It’s been an awesome mission that we’ve executed over and over again, and we’ve just gotten better every day,” the general added.

Reynes is especially proud of his airmen for completing their regular mission while also assisting with the historic U.S. drawdown of forces.

“What’s evolved is how we translated those missions, and how we’ve drawn down at the same time,” Reynes said. “[We’re] executing the same missions, 24/7, 365, in support of the ground force commander. And they’ve done that while we’ve done one of the most historic drawdowns, while executing the mission at the same time.”

Moving into Operation New Dawn means adapting to a smaller footprint for U.S. airmen and growing capabilities for Iraqi airmen, the general said. It’s a new beginning for Iraq, he said, noting the Iraqi Air Force has grown from 1,500 airmen and 28 aircraft two years ago to 7,000 airmen and more than 100 aircraft now.

The IqAF is expected to grow to more than 10,000 members by 2012, Reynes said. Meanwhile, he said, Iraqi airmen are beginning to move onto bases here such as Joint Base Balad, Ali and Sather.

“We’ll continue to support and do the same missions we’ve done, but at the same time we’re handing more and more off to our Iraqi partners,” Reynes said. “And over the next year, you’re going to see more partnering with our Iraqi brothers and sisters, but also we’ll be doing more training.

“[It’s a] mission they want to do and execute,” he continued, referring to Iraq’s airmen. “And we’re working with them to ensure they are the best they can be.”

As the drawdown continues, about 6,000 U.S. airmen will remain in Iraq, Reynes said. The Air Force footprint has gotten smaller, he said, but airmen will retain the same capabilities to execute a variety of missions in support of ground forces.

“Operation New Dawn really doesn’t change anything for our airmen,” Reynes said. “They are still going to be executing the same missions as they were before, but there will be fewer airmen. We’re still going to be providing ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance].” We’re still going to be providing timely and precise cargo and passenger movement.

“And of course,” he continued, “every day and every night there are going to be aircraft airborne, just in case kinetics are needed, and in more cases, just for that presence over the battlefield for 24/7, 365 overwatch.”

While doing all of this, U.S. airmen will be training their Iraqi counterparts throughout the country so they can completely take over the mission by the end of 2011, the general said.

“Airmen will be partnering with our Iraqi brothers as we develop the Iraqi Air Force, as we continue to work to develop those partnerships and engagements with our Iraqi brothers and sisters as we move toward end of mission,” Reynes concluded.