I was recently in Kenya working with air force leaders from 35 African nations, and while there I read an African proverb that resonated strongly with me. It stated: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This could not be truer today in how the U.S. Air Force operates on the European and African continents.
In an area of operations that covers 104 nations, it means having strong, trusted and reliable relationships. This is more important than ever, because trust is something that cannot be surged, it is built over time and based on delivering on your word.
This year, as we celebrate the U.S. Air Force’s 72nd birthday, I am reminded of how strong partnerships and teamwork have contributed to the service’s success and more importantly as a joint force, and a nation. The only way we can successfully tackle the complex challenges of today is if we commit to moving forward together. We have the world’s premier Air Force but we could not successfully “fly, fight and win” without the mindset of unity and teamwork.
This fundamental concept was taught to me early in my Air Force career. It is foundational to what we do. As a cadet at the Air Force Academy I was a member of the Wings of Blue parachute team and quickly learned how teamwork is the foundation of excellence. Our team ate, slept and trained together, forging trust and unbreakable bonds that remain today. These bonds and ability to rely on one another have been part of every successful team I’ve served on.
During my two years as the commander of U.S. Air Force Central Command (AFCENT), our coalition team delivered results in a complex, pressurized environment with lives on the line. Every nation brought an important capability, all underpinning our success. The key components to our coalition were the people, the relationships and trust that was cultivated on a daily basis on the battlefield.
I share this because the Air Force of today operates in an environment where a strong architecture of allies and partners is critical to our success — we rely on partnerships that we’ve cultivated over the years to create a strong team of willing partners that can prevail in an era of global power competition. We cannot go at it alone; we must work with allies and partners around the world to degrade and defeat malign influences.
As airmen, we speak a common language that facilitates operating at speed over vast distances. This is critical to competing in today’s security environment. This common language did not occur by happenstance. It grew from the strength of shared experiences in training and in combat. Being a good wingman ensures that bad actors who would seek to disrupt, dismantle and destroy the global world order will never succeed because we are ready, willing and working together to ensure that never happens.
Though we have the ability to surge aircraft and generate combat power at a moment’s notice, what we can’t surge is trust. Strong relationships and partnerships are an investment in security and having a global presence demonstrates that we are committed and have skin in the game. Today’s complex security environment, focused on what is referred to as great power competition, requires us to foster, strengthen and build strategic relationships across the European and African continents. We are doing just that.
In Europe it is imperative that we continue to work with our NATO allies and partners to ensure our forward presence and ability to rapidly deploy capabilities into the theater. Together we are an alliance that has the capability to deter potential adversaries and defend in all domains, ensuring our collective security. Our mission is to provide the credible combat airpower needed to deter war and to protect the security of our nations. Should deterrence fail, however, rest assured we are prepared to fight and win.
While the demand to enhance and strengthen partnerships in Europe continues, U.S. Air Forces Africa is focused on helping partners build capabilities designed to bolster security, stability, and ultimately prosperity. We are actively strengthening key relationships and offering assistance on the continent that support our partners’ defense capabilities, ability to counter transnational threats while offering opportunities for political and economic development.
Our determined African partners fight terrorism while working to build regional self-reliance and security. We are partnering with other countries to reduce the impact of malign influences to position African partners for a better future.
We are motivated and inspired by the dedication and commitment our partners in Africa are showing to developing their respective air forces capacity. This investment will produce more capable and professional militaries that contribute to greater security and stability in Africa and demonstrates our commitment to pursuing mutual aims.
I am extremely optimistic about what the future holds in both Europe and Africa. The strong military relationships we have developed between our respective air forces bolster our collective readiness, enhances our deterrence capabilities and leverages partnership capacity, security and stability. Today as we stand together, I am confident we will lead the way in answering the challenges in a very complex global security environment.