U. S. Southern Command is a joint and interagency organization supporting the United States national security interests, and with our partners, fostering security, stability, and prosperity in the Americas. The 612th Theater Operations Group plays a vital role in supporting the Air Forces Southern mission in numerous areas of responsibility.
Col. Jonathan VanNoord, 612th TOG commander, has the unique challenge of playing a dual-hat role. He is not only the commander for the TOG, but he is also, the 474th Air Expeditionary Group commander. Both groups support AFSOUTH missions in SOUTHCOM AOR.
The 612th Theater Operations Group has permanent party members stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, Curacao, Colombia, and Puerto Rico. The 474th AEG has an entire expeditionary squadron in Guantanamo Bay and members also assigned in Puerto Rico, Colombia, and Curacao. Currently an expeditionary RED HORSE squadron is also assigned to the 474th AEG supporting New Horizons 2012 in Peru, an annual series of joint humanitarian assistance exercises that U.S. Southern Command conducts with Latin American and Caribbean nations. These exercises improve joint training readiness of U.S. Engineer, Medical, and Combat Service Support units through humanitarian assistance activities. Each squadron is different but they all support AFSOUTH by supporting units in the AOR in counter drug operations, military commissions, C-130 flying missions and airfield operations.
“We are in a supporting role,” VanNoord said. “We support many different missions, but the most known mission is the counter drug operations. It’s very important to support these operations because this is a war that is being fought in our back yard. We don’t want drugs coming into our country and destroying our country, which is a battle we fight every single day.”
There are currently 740 individuals, across nine squadrons, assigned to the 612th TOG and the 474th AEG downrange in the USSOUTHCOM AOR. The individuals that are assigned to the 612th TOG but live in the AOR are D-M entities so they are supported operationally by 12th AF (AFSOUTH) and personally by base agencies.
“At the group level we provide the life line to all of our geographically separated units that are located throughout the AOR,” said Chief Master Sgt. April Spiczka, 612th TOG group superintendent. “A lot of them are stand-alone units with no base support. They need the support from the 355th Fighter Wing for things that we take for granted everyday by being on a standard air force base. They are the ones on the front lines fighting illegal trafficking, we are here to support them and provide them with what they require to do their job.”
A unique challenge that leadership of the 612th TOG and the 474th AEG faces is that they only have one support squadron stationed at D-M, all of their other personnel are in other geographical locations.
“We are unique because we can’t just walk down the street to see our squadrons,” VanNoord said. “We have to travel to go see them, to identify their living conditions, what resources they have to get their mission done, and so they can know who their leadership is. It’s a challenge because each unit is separated from another unit, and it’s sometimes hard to educate each squadron on what the rest of the group is involved in.”
Members of leadership are able to travel every few months to visit their personnel in the Caribbean and Central and South America. They are able to maintain visibility of the individual squadrons in their group and how they are supporting the mission.
Units assigned to the TOG also help in construction of schools, clinics and playgrounds in support of AFSOUTH operations.
“Last year during New Horizons 2011 in Suriname, we visited a ribbon cutting ceremony for a playground, just a standard playground that you would see in any neighborhood in the United States, but it was like Disney Land for the local youth,” Spiczka said. “When they cut the ribbon, the kids cheered and ran to the playground. It was amazing to be able to push the excited kids on the swings and help them across the monkey bars. It really brought home why we’re doing what we’re doing down there.”
Col. VanNoord wanted to personally thank the units on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base for the support they provide the units downrange.
“I want to thank all the different units for their support to our Airmen that are downrange,” VanNoord said. “We’ve all been downrange and we know that sometimes it’s tough to get that support, but the support we get from D-M is very important to all of our Airmen.”