By Gene Van Deventer, Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command
/ Published August 05, 2016
Citizen Airman/Aug. 2016 -- Since 1953, when the armistice ending hostilities on the Korean peninsula was signed, the United States has had a contingent of Airmen supporting the defense of the Republic of Korea. Now, 63 years after the signing, both North and South Korea continue to exist within a tenuous peace that could be easily ignited into a full-scale war if provocations turned into a real-world confrontation.
The August 2015 incident involving a North Korean-emplaced land mine within the demilitarized zone that left two ROK soldiers seriously injured is one indicator of how volatile the peace is between the two countries. Events in recent months, including North Korean claims of an underground nuclear test and its long-range ballistic missile launch, have created an even higher level of uncertainty.
North Korea has the world’s fourth largest military with 70 percent to 75 percent of the force deployed within 60 miles of the DMZ. Since coming into power in 2011, Kim Jong Un has placed a strong emphasis on developing and strengthening asymmetric capabilities like ballistic missiles, the world’s largest special operations forces, cyber warfare and chemical weapons, all of which increase the indications and warnings challenge for U.S. decision-makers.
To maintain the peace, the U.S. Forces Korea Command relies heavily on Air Force-provided intelligence information that is planned, collected, processed, analyzed and disseminated by a combined team of U.S. and ROK Airmen. The 694th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group, commanded by Col. James C. Mock, carries out this critically important mission providing around-the-clock support at Osan Air Base, ROK.
The group is one of five primary sites for the global Air Force Distributed Common Ground System, operated by the 480th ISR Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. This incredibly complex worldwide system is powered by innovative Airmen who integrate data from numerous ISR platforms and then distribute real-time and near-real-time critical and actionable intelligence to U.S. military and civilian leaders and their allies.
Maj. Alison Hamel is newly assigned to the 694th as its first individual mobilization augmentee. The establishment of this IMA position at Osan is in line with Air Force Reserve Command commander’s guidance to increase execution of intelligence IMA billets at major commands and combatant commands and effectively recruit and place qualified Airmen to support intelligence missions around the globe.
According to command leadership, Hamel was selected for the position based on her record of excellence throughout her career. She was named the 2013 Headquarters Pacific Air Forces Reserve/Guard ISR Officer of the Year as well as PACAF’s Reserve/Guard Officer of the Year during her previous assignment with the 713th Combat Operations Squadron, Detachment 1, Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.
Lt. Col. William Bernhard, the group’s deputy commander and Hamel’s active-duty supervisor, said she has quickly acquired specific training and learned techniques and processes needed for her mission deployments to Korea.
“Major Hamel is quickly becoming familiar with our USFK operations plans and associated workings in the gathering and interpreting of intelligence matters in this theater of operations,” Bernhard said. “She brings a strong intelligence foundation of knowledge and is now applying that knowledge to the threat issues that face the Republic of Korea, our USFK forces and allied partners.”
He said Hamel is also tasked to help improve processes and share best practices between the Korea and Hawaii distributed ground sites to maximize limited ISR assets in the Pacific Command area of operations.
Getting up to speed and qualified as a mission operations commander was a significant leadership training objective for Hamel.
“Getting ops floor qualified as an MOC is a major component of Major Hamel’s mission contributions to the group,” Bernhard said. “Being a mission-ready MOC keeps her aware and focused on the needs and concerns of the Airmen executing the DCGS mission, while working on projects to improve execution and collaboration between DCGS sites.”
He said Hamel recently successfully coordinated a process change for the Hawaii DGS that improves intelligence collection and multiple-intelligence fusion opportunities both there and in Korea.
Now that she is a qualified MOC, Hamel is concentrating on building relationships with all of the group’s on-peninsula partners, synchronizing the intelligence efforts that encompass U.S. Air Force, Army and national communities to include ROK-associated capabilities.
“I’m quickly learning the connecting links between the intelligence provider and the tip-of-the-spear warfighter,” Hamel said. “The lives of more than 51 million ROK citizens depend on the assurance that the military professionals get it right.”
This is especially true considering intelligence is distributed between military partners who speak two distinct languages from two distinct cultures.
“The excellent language skills and efforts of both Korean and American linguists who constantly interact in the intelligence arena are critical to ensuring shared understanding,” Hamel said.
The skills she has developed with the group will support steady-state, real-world scenarios as well as preparation for annual peninsula exercises involving the South Korean air force, U.S. Seventh Air Force, USFK, PACAF and other service components.
“Our mission is simple: to provide world-class intelligence so that peace can be maintained in the Northeast Asia theater of operations and, if need be, to provide the right intelligence to the right warfighters at the right time to meet their contingency requirements,” Hamel said. “I take immense pride in being part of this extremely important and rewarding mission and in working alongside some very ‘intelligent’ Airmen, who perform around the clock, 365 days a year for a cause much larger than themselves. Doing this job as a Reservist and being the first IMA assigned to the 694th ISR Group makes me even prouder.”
(Van Deventer, a long-time contributor to Citizen Airman, is a program analyst in the Directorate of Logistics, Engineering and Force Protection’s Installation Support Branch at Headquarters AFRC, Robins AFB, Georgia. He just completed a tour with the 694th ISRG at Osan AB.)