HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- "Air Commandos, we are one component of a very powerful joint special operations team," said Lt. Gen. Brad Heithold, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command. "We want to ensure that our teammates can always depend on us."
This message resonated clearly during a recent offsite where the command team got together to assess AFSOC's priorities. After a review of the National Security Strategy, Defense Planning Guidance, Air Force Strategy and U.S. Special Operations Command Strategy, the staff arrived at four command priorities.
Heithold and his command chief, Chief Master Sgt. Matt Caruso, want to ensure Air Commandos understand how they directly relate to these priorities, emphasizing that first and foremost, the mission is paramount.
"Our national leaders, from our President on down, value special operations forces and see the applicability to the struggle against violent extremism," said Heithold. "We have their utmost trust and confidence so let's work hard to ensure we never lose it."
With that direction, the first AFSOC priority is to "provide combat ready forces."
To break that down further, Caruso said Air Commandos must be ready to meet national mission force needs at a moment's notice with specific, tailorable, scalable packages of people, aircraft and equipment.
"Combat mission readiness will be maximized in all units," said Heithold. "We will ensure total force integration is a priority and we will enhance understanding of our operational environment while optimizing aircraft ability."
Caruso added that short timelines, a sense of urgency and always-ready units are imperative.
"We must always be ready for the long haul missions...missions that support the SOCOM 2020 Vision," he said. "We must have units that are well manned at 90 percent or above, with qualified personnel and experienced leaders who can manage risk to force and mission. We must also appreciate the combat support teams and how our operational units cannot move without combat ready enablers supporting them."
Assisting with providing combat ready forces, the second AFSOC priority is to "create an environment for our Airmen and families to thrive."
Heithold said an Air Commando embodies pride, dignity and respect for one another and strong, resilient families.
"We will work hard to take care of our Airmen and develop our force," said Heithold. "This includes improving command-wide assignment management and ensuring our Airmen exceed Air Force average promotion rates. We are also going to work hard for our Airmen and families by improving resiliency, giving time and predictability back to their lives and ensuring a safe and secure environment."
Caruso said Air Commandos understand teamwork, how each person in the organization fits into the big picture and how critically important each team member is to the mission.
"We have to start a pride epidemic and drive our performance through the roof," said Caruso. "We must always take care of each other and treat everyone with dignity and respect. We must take care of our wounded and their families for the remainder of their careers."
Right in line with creating an environment for Airmen and families to thrive is the third priority to "transform training to optimize human performance."
"Now is the time to reset to excellence, more effectiveness and efficiency in our training arena," said Caruso. "What makes SOF really special is being exceptional at the mission. This takes a well-planned, structured and disciplined training plan that takes advantage of today's technology. To be the best we must give our people the tools to conduct training over and over again and on a frequent basis...not just in time and certainly not just once in a while."
Excellence is only achieved when you plan for it and work at it, said Heithold.
"Our Air Commandos are going to shoot more, fly more and train harder than anybody in the United States Air Force," said Heithold. "We will not settle for second place, status quo or condone mediocrity."
Caruso added that AFSOC is at a critical inflection point.
"We have never been this young and this busy," said Caruso. "We all need to step back and look at what we are doing and be more deliberate and thoughtful in our actions vice rushing to take care of every single email and tasker that comes to us. Commanders, chiefs, first sergeants and NCOs need to set a tone of excellence in the units and strive to take better care of people. We want to create leaders and mature Air Commandos who can handle any challenge anytime, anyplace."
Heithold said the fourth priority, "modernize and sustain the force," brings it all together.
"We're providing a combat capability to the geographic combatant commanders and SOCOM," said Heithold. "You do that by first creating an environment for your people to thrive. You then train them as best you can and as hard as you can so they are best ready for that mission. And then you give them the tools to do it."
Modernizing and sustaining the force will ensure Air Commandos have those tools, said Heithold.
"It's about optimizing our force structure, preserving and enhancing our core combat capability and identifying next-generation AFSOC capabilities," he added.
Caruso said this means the command will gain the technical advantage with its equipment and aircraft.
"We have to complete previous acquisition programs and aircraft series that are coming on line and find other areas in the command where upgrade and advancement in technology is needed and smart," said Caruso. "We also have to take care of what we have and ensure our gear, our kit and our resources are in A+ shape and ready to head downrange at a moment's notice. Even though our budgets are uncertain and limited, we must take full advantage of what we have and sustain it well into the future."
Heithold said he is confident that through these priorities of being combat ready, creating the right environment, transforming training, and giving his Air Commandos the tools to succeed, they will do just that.
"Because when the nation calls, AFSOC must not fail," said Heithold. "We will not fail. We are America's Air Commandos, highly trained, capable and ready to conduct special operations...Anytime, Anyplace."