excerpt from Air Force Policy Letter Digest, December 2002

Lessons Learned from OEF
by Dr. James G. Roche, Secretary of the Air Force

The events of the past year have presented our nation and our Air Force with tremendous new challenges. We are now engaged in a global war with an elusive and resilient enemy that does not employ traditional means of warfare.

Oct. 7 was the one-year anniversary of the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom and our counterstrike in this new form of warfare. We've flown almost 82,000 strike, reconnaissance and tanker sorties in Central Asia and over the Continental United States. Our mobility forces delivered thousands of troops to the fight, and they delivered more than 2.5 million humanitarian rations to the people of Afghanistan. We occupied or built bases for our coalition operations and for our sister services, many of them in remote and austere environments and many in the backyard of our former adversaries.

Our achievements to date are superb. We've built and sustained a powerful coalition of 90 nations, with 18 countries engaged in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda, although still a danger, is on the run. The Taliban was driven from power in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is no longer a base for global terrorist operations or a breeding ground for radical Islamic militancy, and the Afghan people have been liberated.

We accomplished all this despite the challenges of waging a combined campaign in a landlocked nation. While we fought and won the first phase of this campaign as a joint team -- and we'll always fight as a joint team -- every man and woman, military and civilian, active, Guard and Reserve can be proud of the substantial Air Force contribution to those successes.

There are many lessons the United States has learned from OEF and from other recent experiences that we should apply to the future:

As we prepare for the next phase of this fight, none of us can afford to lose sight of the challenges that lay ahead. We've achieved many of our objectives, but there remains much work to be done. We can't afford to get complacent or think for a moment we've got our enemies beaten. We need to prepare and resolve ourselves to see this through to the finish, regardless of where the fight takes us.

The road to the future is paved with uncertainty. Our nation must be prepared to engage across the entire spectrum of conflict. To do so, our military must be flexible -- flexible to engage any enemy, anywhere, at any time. As we saw on Sept. 11, the unconventional enemy is a threat to our national security and our way of life. Our special operations forces are key to being able to deter and, if necessary, defeat this threat.

Our men and women in the Air Force today have continued to prove that when asked to fight for our nation, they will -- and will do so with professionalism and excellence. They are committed to service and are ready to perform any mission we ask of them. They have been toughened by a decade of conflict, global engagement and expeditionary operations. As Gen. John Jumper (Air Force chief of staff) recently pointed out, whoever stands against our force will have to battle a veteran corps of airmen:

"Almost every captain in the Air Force who flies airplanes has combat experience... virtually every engineer, security forces troop and medic in the Air Force has deployed... This is a veteran, hardened combat force.... They have been shot at. They know what it's like. And when we go, we're going to be at the peak of our game."

That's the payoff for one of the busiest years in Air Force history.