July 19, 2006

IDAHO'S GUNFIGHTERS: FREEDOM'S VANGUARD

Guest opinion by Senator Mike Crapo

Next year marks a centennial for the United States Air Force. In August 1907, the U.S. Army Signal Corps established an aeronautical division to oversee â??military ballooning, air machines and all kindred subjects.â?? Forty years and two World Wars later, the United States Air Force became the newest branch of the United States Military, created by Congress to â??be organized, trained, and equipped primarily for prompt and sustained offensive and defensive air operations.â?? â??[It] shall be responsible for the preparation of the air forces necessary for the effective prosecution of war except as otherwise assigned and, in accordance with integrated joint mobilization plans, for the expansion of the peacetime components of the Air Force to meet the needs of war.â?? To many, â??Air Forceâ?? is synonymous with bomb-dropping, missile-firing fighter jets. While this is certainly a major function, this organization of close to 350,000 people plays a vital and instrumental role in the ongoing fight against terrorism on multiple fronts, from flying combat missions and conducting manned and unmanned surveillance to logistical ground support (airmen serve as convoy drivers for the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan). During the first two years of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Air Force conducted 30,000 sorties, or individual flights of combat aircraft on a mission. Today, on average, 40 close air support missions--troop support, infrastructure protection, reconstruction activities and operations to deter and disrupt terrorist activities--are conducted by Coalition Forces in Iraq. The U.S. Air Force is responsible for the majority of these. Idaho has been privileged to be the home of Mountain Home Air Force Base for over 60 years now. Over the past half-century, Mountain Home AFB has hosted many diverse missions of the Air Force including special and covert operations; combat and reconnaissance operations; ballistic missile defense; electronic combat; and, fighter operations. Last year, Mountain Home AFB was the second largest employer in the Treasure Valley, having a local economic impact of $934 million. The base is the fifth-largest employer in the entire state. The Gunfighters, as Mountain Home AFB personnel are known, deploy to fight terror in an integrated fashion, from the maintenance and piloting of F-15 Eagles, Fâ??15E Strike Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons to complementary support missions such as intelligence and communications. In the air campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Gunfighters flew almost 1,000 individual sorties. The Air Force has worked diligently over the years to be a good steward of federal land in southern Idaho. I have worked with leadership at the base on many land management issues during my service in Congress. Further, the Air Force continues to respect Native American cultural sensitivities and practices and works hard to do its part in maintaining a respectful relationship for the betterment of Shoshone-Paiute tribal interests as well as maintaining state of the art training for our airmen. As a nation, we are blessed to have such an outstanding, committed and respectable military. The Air Force works intricately and effectively with the other military branches to skillfully execute the war on terror, specifically (but not limited to) military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Idahoans can be incredibly proud of and thankful for the sacrifice of both their Gunfighters and of Air Force women and men worldwide.