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Success in Iraq result of lessons learned

5/1/2003 - WASHINGTON  -- The reason the Air Force performed so well during Operation Iraqi Freedom can be traced back to lessons learned from earlier conflicts, according to the deputy chief of staff for air and space operations at the Pentagon.

“We were better trained, better organized and better equipped than we have ever been,” Lt. Gen. Ronald E. Keys said. “We took lessons learned from (Operation) Desert Storm, the war in the Balkans, and from Afghanistan, and we put those together into routine training.”

Examples of the real-world-type training enhanced by those conflicts include the “Red Flag” weapons system school, “Blue Flag” operational deployment school, and “Phoenix Readiness” expeditionary combat support course, the general said.

“We executed just the way it was planned,” Keys said. “You can’t do that in a pick-up type of operation. You need to train to do that.

“It points to our mantra of ‘the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war,’” he said. “We spend a lot of time paying attention to that -- you fight like you train.”

The general pointed to feedback he has received from pilots returning from combat operations as proof that the training is working as planned.

“You can find any number of pilots who have said it wasn’t as bad as the first couple of missions at Red Flag,” he said. “That says a lot about how we train. If they come back and say it was not as stressful in actual war as it was during training operations, you have a recipe for success.”

Lessons learned as recently as a year ago in Operation Enduring Freedom have paid off in the area of combat support, Keys said.

“Coming out of Afghanistan, we’d found that there was a seam between the time the Army captured an airfield and when the Air Force began operations,” he said. “In Iraq, there wasn’t any seam.”

When the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade parachuted into northern Iraq, an Air Force contingency response group parachuted in with them. Their job, Keys said, was to analyze the airfield quickly to determine what equipment would be required to make the airfield operational.

“We were there Day 1, Hour 1,” Keys said.

Besides training on how to begin operations at a captured airfield, Phoenix Readiness teaches airmen the fine art of building an air base from scratch, such as the proper placement of tents, munitions sites and dining facilities.

“Previously, we hadn’t trained on that -- they learned it through osmosis,” Keys said. “Now we have people who are better at setting up tent cities, which is no small order. And we’re going to continue to refine Phoenix Readiness.”

Another recent invention was the air component coordination element, a system designed to provide high-level integration with ground forces. An ACCE team was located within each major land force headquarters to make sure both air and land force commanders understood each others’ strengths and weaknesses.

“It worked extremely well,” Keys said. “As the war unfolded with unprecedented speed, it allowed us to concentrate integrated air and space power right at the point where it was needed by the land forces.”

As airmen return from OIF, they will be asked to report what went right or wrong within their areas of the operation so new lessons can be learned for the next contingency, the general said.

“If you go back to the reason we were so successful, it’s because we had the trained people, the best technology and the best organization,” Keys said. “That didn’t happen by accident, by sitting in an easy chair drinking coffee. It’s a result of a lot of inventive people making hard choices. I think that says a lot about our Air Force.”