Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Backfill Flashbacks

One of the stories that was most revealing during my time on the Joint Staff was the Rummy effort to get US units out of everywhere.  Because I was essentially a free hand, my bosses had me do the initial draft of a response to a Rumsfeld request to get US forces out of all of the various commitments around the world.

So, I basically coordinated with the various JS folks responsible for all of these missions.  Once I wrote the response, it went up the chain with various micro-editing along the way, but then it got kicked back down.  Why?  Because Iceland had not been on the list.  Who wanted it on the list?  The US Air Force 2 star who was a couple of rungs up the chain.  Why?  Because the US had a small detachment of fighter planes (F15s's and or F16s) that represented the US and NATO commitment to the defense of Iceland.*  Why would this be problematic?  Well, it was not so much the fighters, which the US had in abundance, but the need to deploy refueling aircraft and long-range search and rescue units (helos).  These were quite scarce, particularly as Afghanistan was heating up (fall 2001).
* It is important to note that Tom Clancy's fantasy of WWIII, Red Storm Rising, turn entirely on Iceland due to a game he had been playing.
The problem was that Iceland didn't want to see the fighters go away since that was their only defense.  So, they threatened to kick out the US naval forces that used Iceland as a base for detecting submarines in the North Atlantic.  Ooops.  So, the memo did go up with the inclusion of Iceland on the list, but I always wondered what became of it.

Well, now I know.  Instead of being a US commitment, it is now a NATO commitment to send planes occasionally to fly over and around Iceland (update: see here for CEFCOM info on the mission).  The current shift belongs to:  Canada!!  And this was a bit more complex this time since the unit initially slated to go to Iceland is now flying over Libya

This is interesting to me partly because of the nostalgia for one of the snowflakes that kept me busy during my year in the Pentagon (Rummy kept asking the same question).  But it also shows some interesting bureaucratic politics (USAF pushing the change, one of the few instances where service seemed to challenge the Joint atmosphere of the JS); alliance politics (could not offend the tiny Icelandic folk); Rummy's unilateral obsession and so on.  Good times!

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