Just one month after assuming command of 12th Air Force and Air Forces Southern (AFSOUTH), Lieutenant General Robin Rand visited Miami, Florida, to meet face to face with his counterparts in the U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM).
Among his new responsibilities as the air component commander of USSOUTHCOM, Lt. Gen. Rand has embarked on the mission of strengthening security cooperation and offering air, space and cyberspace capabilities throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, a “fascinating region”, in his own words.
During his visit to USSOUTHCOM, Lt. Gen. Rand spoke to Diálogo about diverse topics, including protecting cyberspace, the role of the Red Horse squadrons, and the cultural nuances that make our hemisphere such a multifaceted and challenging world.
Diálogo: What is the mission of AFSOUTH and how does it relate to USSOUTHCOM?
Lieutenant General Robin Rand, U.S. Air Force Southern Commander: The mission of Air Force Southern is to conduct security cooperation while providing air, space, and cyber space capabilities for the Caribbean and South and Central America. We are the Air Force component of USSOUTHCOM.
Security cooperation is done in a variety of ways. A lot of it comes from personal engagements between myself – acting on behalf of the USAF Chief of Staff and his Air Chief –, and our counterparts in the region. But more practically, security cooperation happens through training opportunities and the exchange of tactics, techniques, and procedures with the different Air Forces and airmen in Latin America and Caribbean.
Then, defending the air, space and cyberspace is part of our responsibility. Defense of the United States is always a priority, and we do that with ongoing operations, that as best as we can, slowdown and deter Transnational Organized Crime.
We are also postured to help in every way, shape and form we can with any type of humanitarian assistance or natural disaster relief. Obviously, the Air Force piece of that is a very prominent part; because our Air Force can provide rescue workers, medics, supplies, and equipment on scene in a rapid fashion.
Diálogo: Do you have examples of that help?
Lt. Gen. Rand: Sadly, a recent example was the earthquake in Haiti, in January 2010. Within a matter of hours we were able to bring Air Force planes into the Port-au-Prince airport, and even though the airport had been damaged, we were able to still conduct operations, keep the airfield open – which was a big part of it –, and make sure that we were able to flow the air traffic that was coming in. From around the world people wanted to help, but there is only so much capacity that you can put on an airfield at one time. So we were there to make sure that the airfield stayed open, that there was someone for the pilots to talk to, and to coordinate offloading the cargo and then getting those planes out of the way so we could bring in more planes. We also brought in specialists: civil engineers, medics, and security forces, who provided security; built shelters and started repairing damaged infrastructure, and provided life saving medical care. As Haiti demonstrated, Humanitarian assistance, especially right after a tragic natural disaster is a very critical part of what AFSOUTH must do in support of the USSOUTHCOM mission.
Diálogo: You also mentioned cyber space capabilities as part of your mission. Can you explain what this mission entails?
Lt. Gen. Rand: Cyberspace is the way in which we now, primarily, communicate. In today’s environment, cyberspace has to be defended. There are other people that want to slow down and negatively impact our cyber capabilities. So much of how our society functions relies on cyber freedom of access. Much of our banking; telecommunications, communications in general…. Think about if an enemy of the United States could shut down our banking system. We have to defend [ourselves] against these possible attacks. So, defense of cyber assets are critical, and where we can, we provide expertise to our partner nations in Latin America in that area.
Diálogo: As commander of 12th Air Force, you are in charge of 10 combat wings and one Red Horse squadron. What is a Red Horse squadron and how does it relate to the region?
Lt. Gen. Rand: A Red Horse is a highly mobile civil engineering response force that can provide contingency civil engineering capabilities in a moment’s notice. They can go to bare-based locations and build workplace facilities, living quarters, dining facilities, and basic recreational facilities from scratch. It is a phenomenal capability that they have, and they can do it very quickly, and they really don’t have to depend on others to do that. Our Red Horse Squadrons are world-wide deployable and are currently in many locations to include Afghanistan. From my own experiences, a few years ago I witnessed a Red Horse squadron in Iraq basically build a compound to house 5,000 soldiers in about 30 to 45 days. Obviously, not fancy, but certainly functional.
This summer we are planning to go to Peru for the New Horizons exercise. It will be a two to three-month exercise where members from our Red Horse squadrons, along with members from the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Marine Corps will go down and train with the Peruvian government. I can assure you that when Haiti happened we had Red Horse engineers that were deployed.
Diálogo: From your perspective, what is the importance of understanding the culture and languages of the region?
Lt. Gen. Rand: I had an opportunity in my Air Force career to live outside of the U.S. many times, and relationships are important. In order to have a relationship, I believe one of the first things you have to do is try and understand the culture. In order to understand the culture, communication becomes very important. Part of communication is listening, so you can learn. I am going to do try to do that… I have so much to learn about the region. We are neighbors. This is the Americas, and we rely on each other. It is exciting to concentrate on this part of the world and I am very excited for the opportunity of this job.