At the turn of the 21st century, the U.S. Air Force embarked on a new journey—the Expeditionary Air Force —a concept involving the deployment of integrated combat and support aircraft and personnel on a rotational basis, to meet the operational needs of Commanders-in-Chief.
This reorganization resulted from a shift in Cold War mindset to post Cold War reality—the Air Force were doing more with less. U.S. forces were forward deployed, with approximately one-third less resources and two-thirds less overseas bases. Today's EAF is hailed as the solution to providing rapid and decisive response whenever and wherever necessary. Additionally, the concept was designed to reduce deployment tempo by creating a more predictable rotation schedule, and take full advantage of all available military members to include active duty, reservists, Guardsman and civilians, capitalizing the Total Force concept.
While EAF was developed to meet the needs of the 21st century, the roots of expeditionary forces stem back almost 90 years. During the American Revolution and Civil War, the term "expeditionary" portrayed forces ranging from several hundred to several thousand troops fighting conflicts far from their home base. In 1916, Brig. Gen. John J. Pershing, along with more than 7,000 U.S. troops, used aircraft for reconnaissance during his punitive mission to detain Mexican outlaw leader Pancho Villa in response to Villa's assault on Columbus, N.M.
Expeditionary forces were again brought to bear in World War I and II. The British Expeditionary Force halted the German Army 30 miles from Paris, France, during 1914's First Battle at Marne. In November 1918, the American Expeditionary Force arrived in France and fought in the trenches alongside French forces in the Second Battle at Marne, once again succeeding in stopping the advancing German Army. World War I was also the first war in which aviators of the U.S. Army Air Service, serving within the AEF, performed modern-day roles such as counter-air, counter-sea, close-air-support, interdiction and reconnaissance. Because no doctrine or standards existed to guide them, aircrews flew in a "trial-by-fire" atmosphere. Once pilots mastered their aircraft, airpower became a formidable force.
World War II also brought about airpower's maturity in battle. A good example of early joint forces was Henry "Hap" Arnold's Army Air Force Air Commando Groups operating out of the Philippines and Burma. During Operation THURSDAY, these units seized Japanese airstrips and used them for Army ground troop placement. Once staged, they opposed and conquered the enemy under Allied close-air-support cover....