NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — The actions of an individual Airman can decide the success of missions led by NATO, according to the general charged with protecting civilians and establishing a no-fly zone over Libya in 2011.
“The realization that I’m just a kid from [New] Jersey who grew up on pizza and Bruce Springsteen, and now I’m leading this international effort, with impact on a global scale, was humbling,” said Lt. Gen. Ralph Jodice, Allied Air Component Command Headquarters commander and16th Air Expeditionary Task Force commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Izmir, Turkey. “It’s important to realize that as an Airman, you will be asked to perform a variety of roles. Agility and the ability to think independently are critical to succeeding.”
The general spoke to approximately 400 service members Dec. 13 in the Red Flag auditorium at Nellis AFB about his experiences as NATO air component commander during Operation Unified Protector.
During the Libyan conflict, Jodice’s mission was primarily focused on protecting civilians, monitoring a UN arms embargo and enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya during its civil war.
The rebellion against dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, was ignited by social media posts, and fueled by independent ground forces. In an effort to protect civilians from aggressive forces, NATO authorized member nations, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan and Sweden to monitor ground forces for signs of aggression towards civilians.
“These nations understood the moral gravity of the situation and significantly contributed to operations,” Jodice said. “The majority of aircraft used throughout the operation were supplied by allied nations.”
The NATO effort over Libya closely resembled exercises performed on the 2.9 million-acre Nevada Test and Training Range, where U.S. and allied forces practice similar scenarios. Air forces from around the globe travel to southern Nevada and Fort Irwin, Calif., to participate in Red Flag, an air-to-air training exercise, and Green Flag, an air-to-ground training exercise.
“Red Flag [and Green Flag] train participants to account for real-world limitations nearly identical to those faced by air crews in Libya,” said Lt. Col. Cameron Dadgar, 414th Combat Training Squadron deputy commander, who attended the discussion. “Sensitive airspace borders, noise limitations and other limits are enforced with consequences for crews who can be grounded or sent home based on the type of violation.”
During 2012, Nellis hosted three Red Flags and several Green Flag exercises. More than 30 aircraft types and approximately 100 units participated in them, which involved all U.S. services and several international forces.
The general stressed the importance of every service member to an operation.
“Decisions I made during Operation Unified Protector were felt on the lowest tactical level, and decisions individual crewmen made were felt on the broadest strategic level,” Jodice said. “Preventing civilian casualties was the principal goal of our governing political body, the North Atlantic Council. As a result, we made target verification our mantra and took adjacent population centers into consideration during every step of every mission.”
Having participated in previous Red Flags as a pilot, planner and commander, the general cited Nellis’ mission as being of national importance, with global implications.
“I would say to the local population who may be affected by these exercises that it’s important to realize that Nellis, Creech and the Nevada Test and Training Range provide an opportunity for our Airmen to train with international allies, consider the strategic impact of their missions, and train to provide a full spectrum of capabilities to the NATO Alliance,” the general said. “It’s no secret that Nellis and other installations in Nevada provide a training arena that’s vital nationally and globally.”
Civilians and military service members packed the auditorium. Some cited a desire to see how their efforts resulted in operational successes.
“Our work helps missions like these run smoothly,” said Stephanie Bodich, Air Force Audit Agency auditor assigned to Nellis. “Getting the chance to see behind the curtain and understand that the supply work we do has an impact — not just on paper but during real-world missions — is always helpful.”
Nellis AFB continues exercises with allied nations in 2013 with a Red Flag exercise involving Sweden, the Netherlands and Singapore. Sweden will be flying Grippens, the same type of aircraft they contributed to Operation Unified Protector.