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AFDW commander speaks on command issues

BOLLING AIR FORCE BASE, D.C. -- While Airmen in the National Capital Region face concerns of transformation through force shaping, the Air Force District of Washington commander is confident they are able to meet each challenge while successfully adapting to change. With AFDW being the new Air Force war-fighting component under Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region, it has picked up additional command responsibilities and duties.

Additional duties include taking care of the professional Airmen assigned to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., and Bolling.

''The Air Force mission is complicated because of many factors, but the joint mission is even more complex because it involves not only JFHQ-NCR, but also they interplay with 1st Air Force at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fl. as well as a host of other interagency players with equities in the nation's capital," said Maj. Gen. Robert L. Smolen, AFDW commander.

Interviewer: The AFDW stood up more than a year ago, yet a lot of people don't seem to know what it is or why it exists. Why was it created and what do you see as the chief mission or missions?

General Smolen: In a month or so, we will release a strategic plan for AFDW. Included in that plan will be a six-word statement that sums up why we exist -- ''Securing our Capital, Supporting our People." That twin mission is what we're all about. The ''bumper sticker" sounds simple, but it's an enormous and complex mission.

AFDW is here to be the single voice for Air Force operations in the national capital area and to assist in completing the ultimate mission to fight the Global War on Terrorism. What a tremendous privilege it is to be a part of the joint team whose area of responsibility contains the people and many of the symbols of our great nation. While a main focus is homeland, AFDW leadership also ensures our Airmen are ready to deploy. After all, that's why we exist to be prepared when summoned to defend on any front.

Interviewer: The Air Force-National Capital Region part of the AFDW mission is new. Can you talk about the challenges there? How does AFDW integrate? What unique capabilities does it bring to the fight?

General Smolen: In addition to fighting the war on terror, AFDW has the added responsibility and privilege of providing contingency response capability critical to national security to support any contingency in the National Capital Region. In doing so, AFDW is growing in its ability to operate jointly -- this requires us to recognize the multitude of capabilities we bring to the table in order to assist JFHQ-NCR -- things like support from a terrific professional medical team like those assigned to the new 79th Medical Wing; communications capabilities for the region under the management of the 844th Communications Group; and the support of two highly capable wings that operate Bolling and Andrews AFBs.

Interviewer: Can you explain how AFDW and its components will be affected by the force cuts and force shaping underway throughout the Air Force? How are fewer people going to get all the work done? Why cut now, in the middle of a war?

General Smolen: Air Force District of Washington's goals are the Air Force goals Win the war on terror, take care of our people and recapitalize the force. We contribute to winning the war on terror in many ways, not least of which is having our great team ready to deploy. We also ensure our Airmen who are responsible for carrying out our mission are well taken care of. Although there are challenges, we are comprised of some of the best and the brightest. Our Airmen have proven we can continually improve processes with less people. Some have a concern about force shaping and its effect on the future operations tempo. It can be expected that AFDW will have the same issues as any other command, but this action is a necessary step in the downsizing process. We simply must get the mission done with fewer people -- fact of life. Leadership is taking every step possible to enhance training. We have challenged and are listening to our troops who have offered innovative ways to improve processes that make up for the loss of the manpower. Change is something the Air Force has seen from day one and we're constantly striving to figure out new and better ways to do things. Downsizing and force shaping will be a challenge, but they are necessary steps to prepare for our future.

Interviewer: As you look out to the next few years, what do you see as the biggest challenges facing AFDW?

General Smolen: Knowing there are Airmen and civilian Air Force members out there who know how we can accomplish tasks better and smarter. The challenge is to get them to tell us what we can improve upon so we can begin to develop processes, which will make their jobs easier. Most good ideas come where the rubber meets the ramp. I'm convinced there are ways to do things better. We just have to find them. Our great folks know what things cause them to be less efficient than they know they can be. We have to identify those elements and fix them. I also have great concern, as do many senior leaders, about how we can improve the quality of life for our personnel challenged by some aspects of living and working in the NCR. The traffic, long commutes and a high cost of living make the Washington area a difficult place to live as a young Airman or junior civilian. If you don't live on base then you tend to live a lot further away in order to be able to get into good, affordable housing; the traffic and commute are the major irritants. For those who do live on base and have school-age children, the choice is also difficult. Many parents elect to home school or send their children to private schools that are an added financial burden. The AFDW team is looking at options to find ways to make improvements. If we want to continue to attract the best Airmen to Andrews and Bolling and expect them to live on base, then we owe it to those families to provide additional school opportunities for their children.

Interviewer: Are there plans in progress to assist in the school system or access to better schools?

General Smolen: We're looking at a number of innovative options. In fact, next week I'm sending some of my senior staff down to New Orleans Naval Air Station, where the Navy faced a similar challenge and came up with a solution that is considered a model. I'm willing to steal good ideas from anywhere. I'm also enlisting the help of Navy Rear Adm. Terrence E. McKnight, my counterpart at the Naval District of Washington in hopes that we can work toward a joint solution. He's committed to the effort. At Andrews, we're teaming up with the local business community which is eager to help. I'm also meeting next month with the new superintendent of the Prince George's County schools to discuss options. The solution won't be found overnight, but I'm determined to find it.

Housing privatization may afford new opportunities and it is the way of our future. Teaming with the local community in new ways is a possibility. I've met with local and congressional leaders and will continue to devote a lot of personal attention to this problem. It's a tough problem, but I'm not willing to just say it's something we have to live with.

Providing Airmen and their families a place they can afford and is close to where they work is probably the best thing the Air Force, and other services, can provide to their members. Andrews and Bolling may see privatization by spring or summer next year. It's possible this effort could provide leverage to addressing the schools issue. All senior leaders seek to maintain and improve the quality of life for our Airmen -- something the Air Force is known for. If you look at our programs, there are many innovations across the board. I'd like to think the Air Force is a leader in every category. We appropriately focus very intently on how we take care of our Airmen and their families. The stated priorities of our secretary and chief of staff include not only fighting the war on terrorism but, very closely in line with that, is taking care of our Airmen. AFDW has a lot of great people who are superbly performing very critical and important missions. We also face some challenges but I think we're well up to managing those challenges. We'll change what needs changing, and ultimately it will be for the better. As our secretary and chief have said -- it is also imperative we do those tough but necessary things that will give the nation a better and even more capable Air Force for the future.