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Responding to New Challenges (1991-2000)

During the 1990s, following the end of the Cold War, civilian and military leaders turned their attention to redefining the role of the U.S. military. The geopolitical landscape was changed dramatically with the demise of the U.S.S.R. The singular threat of communist expansion was replaced by numerous potential threats to U.S. interests from the economically and politically fragmented former Soviet Bloc countries or the former Yugoslavia. These threats necessitated a possible military response focused on a single opponent or intervention in regional conflicts.

Desert Storm GradersIn June 1990, Secretary of the Air Force Donald B. Rice (1989-1993) published a white paper entitled “Global Reach - Global Power.” In this paper, Rice redefined the Air Force contribution to national security as providing aerospace power capability to deliver precise and flexible applications of national power to complete missions anywhere in the world in hours rather than days. The speed and range of jet aircraft, increased precision of weapons guided by space-based navigation and communication equipment, and military flexibility supported the Air Force in meeting this mandate.

On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait triggering Operation Desert Shield on August 7, 1990 and Operation Desert Storm between January 17 and February 28, 1991. These intense international efforts refocused U.S. military preparedness toward involvement in regional conflicts rather than the previously anticipated large-scale war scenarios between major world powers. During both operations, Air Force civil engineers executed beddown, sustainment, and mission support assignments in an international environment with a high level of efficiency and professionalism that was recognized by all U.S. Armed Services. The lessons learned from deploying during the Gulf War were incorporated at all levels of the Air Force civil engineer organization. This experience shaped and reshaped civil engineer readiness requirements, doctrine, and training during the 1990s. For a more detailed account of the event click here

Desert Storm GradersThe Air Force responded to the new international and U.S. political realities of the early 1990s through a far reaching reorganization. Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Merrill A. McPeak initiated reforms that dramatically reshaped the entire Air Force, including Air Force Civil Engineering. General McPeak instituted the concept of a “total quality Air Force” and conducted an intense review of the Air Force’s vision, missions, and organizational structure.

On September 17, 1991, the most sweeping restructuring of the Air Force since 1947 was announced. The restructuring was designed to reflect the vision of Global Reach - Global Power, to build up combat capability, and to incorporate modern management practices and principles by strengthening the command chains, decentralizing large headquarters organizations, consolidating resources under a single field commander, streamlining organizational structures, and clarifying functional responsibilities. On the Pentagon level, the Air Force Headquarters staff, including the Air Force Civil Engineer’s Office, was reduced by 21 percent.

Desert Storm GradersBy the mid-1990s, the Air Force was primarily based in the continental United States with a limited forward presence on a few bases in Europe and in the Pacific. By 1996, the Air Force shrank from a blue suit force of 610,000 persons to 400,000; civilian personnel numbers also decreased from 252,000 to 166,000 in fiscal year 1999. While fewer in numbers, Air Force civil engineers supported an expanding number of short-notice deployments for peacetime assignments, as well as a greater number of military operations other than war (MOOTW). These latter operations included support for combat operations, such as enforcing sanctions and exclusion zones, and non-combat missions, such as peacekeeping missions, recovery operations, humanitarian missions, and nation assistance. Air Force civil engineers were deployed to support the U.S. Air Force mission in Southwest Asia (SWA), Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and in Central and Latin American countries.

Desert Storm GradersDuring the late 1990s, the U.S. Air Force issued a new vision for air power designed to carry the organization into the new millennium. Entitled Global Engagement: A Vision for the 21st Century Air Force, the document was predicated on provisions of the revised National Defense Strategy that required the U.S. Air Force “to rapidly defeat initial enemy advances short of their objectives in two theaters in close succession.” The Air Force identified the core competencies of rapid global mobility, precision engagement, global attack, air and space superiority, information superiority, and agile combat support as critical to maintaining air and space superiority. The Air Force civil engineering community began to define its role, doctrine, and readiness training to support new concepts, such as the Air Expeditionary Force and agile combat support.

Desert Storm GradersBy the close of the 1990s, Air Force Civil Engineering had weathered major reorganizations. The organization undertook increasingly complex duties both at home stations and during deployments with a high level of competence and readiness in an environment characterized by simultaneous operations. Throughout the 1990s, civil engineer personnel performed as warriors, professionals, and ambassadors.

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