Today’s Air Force: 'Builders' not 'Breakers'

  • Published
  • By Capt. Nathan D. Broshear
  • 12th Air Force Public Affairs
Ever since I was a kid I remember fighter pilots using the phrase "break stuff and blow things up" as a way to explain their job. 

It was considered a short-handed description of the tasks modern Air Forces face: targeting the enemy's infrastructure while inflicting minimal damage to the civilian populace while preserving as many of one's aircraft and personnel as possible. 

When members of the public envision the modern Air Force mission, thoughts of swarms of B-17 bombers flying over Berlin or shockwaves splitting apart sections of the Ho Chi Minh trail might be easily recalled. More recently, video of smart bombs flying down the chimneys of Baath party hideouts in Desert Storm, grainy-green images of anti-aircraft fire searching out stealth fighters and mountains of concrete rubble dominate thoughts on airpower. 

While it's tempting to discuss the macho aspects of the military mission, in reality, our nation's Air Force is more a community of "builders"....not "breakers." Since 9/11, the Air Force mission has evolved to encompass every type of ground operation, civilian and military engagement, construction and education, support for emerging governments and humanitarian assistance. 

While their coworkers soar overhead, Airmen in Iraq and Afghanistan are commanding convoys, training foreign police and military members, engineering infrastructure, training pilots and professors, assisting diplomats and voters, all while enabling the most proficient airlift capability in the world to bring manpower and supplies wherever, whenever. 

In Latin America, more than 230 Airmen recently completed the FIDAE air and trade show, along with an accompanying exercise called NEWEN. Instead of flexing American muscle, these Airmen Ambassadors spent their time educating the public on aerospace technology, visiting local charities, educating local first responders on the latest in trauma care and lending expertise to practice pararescue techniques. More than 900 Airmen are in the region everyday building for the future -- their mission was once referred to as "non-traditional" -- today, these operations are the norm for Air Force deployments. 

During their career, Airmen today are more much more likely to "build" than "break." They're working daily to build relationships with our partner nations, striving to build hope in regions long abandoned by their leaders and connecting our bases to build a robust network infrastructure able to thwart tomorrow's cyber criminals. 

Leadership is committed to this philosophy; the Air Force is supporting an increasing number of "non-traditional" operations with joint commands in Africa, Southern Command (Central, South America and the Caribbean), Cyber Command and supporting civilian authorities within the United States. 

Clearly, the Air Force's core competencies must be able to engage the enemy across the spectrum of conflict, but Airmen have also come to understand how their unique military skills can be positively used to "build for tomorrow" rather than "break stuff" today.