SALEM, Oregon – The global demands placed on Service Members in the U.S. Air Force goes beyond securing air superiority and moving equipment and cargo. Rapid transnational mobility is essential to supporting other American military branches, as well as coalition partners in worldwide conflicts, and when called to respond to humanitarian disasters.
As he quickly shifts from the Commander of the Oregon Air National Guard to his new deployed assignment with the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), Brig. Gen. James A. Kriesel described these responsibilities to those in attendance during the change of command ceremony as he relinquished command to Brig. Gen. Donna M. Prigmore, on Jan. 5, 2019, at the Anderson Readiness Center in Salem, Oregon.
“To the men and women of the Oregon Air National Guard, you define readiness, execute the homeland mission, and deploy as total force warfighters,” he said, while elaborating the increased role all Service Members face as 21st Century Airmen. “We are all part of an agile, deployable military, lethal as required – ready to support our allies and partners.”
Just hours before heading out the door, Kriesel emphasized that these demands also require resiliency, which is, “the secret sauce critical to success or failure in peacetime, natural disasters and combat operations.”
Over the course of his career, ‘staying in the fight’ has defined not only his assignments but also the pace he has brought to these roles. Soon after completing college at the University of Washington in 1986, he graduated from the U.S.A.F. Officer Training School in 1989 and began flying the A-10 Thunderbolt, piloting combat missions during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Eventually, he transitioned to flying F-15 Eagles, and in time, joined the Oregon Air National Guard in 2009.
No stranger to intense situations and quick to volunteer for vigorous assignments, Kriesel deployed to Iraq during his helm as the Oregon Air National Guard commander in May of 2018, simultaneously “wearing three hats,” during the four months in country.
As the senior ranking Air Force general officer, one of his roles was the deputy-commanding general of the combined joint task for Operation Inherent Resolve. At the same time, he served as the deputy commander for the 9th Air Expeditionary Task Force-Levant.
“Everyday I was responsible for synchronizing air power to defeat the ISIS Carafate while building on good partnerships with our Iraqi host,” he said, describing the special balance with integrating seventy-nine coalition partners with host nation forces, all the while, synchronizing air missions for direct support with constant U.S. Army operations.
The “third hat,” Kriesel said, came as the Director of Coalition Aviation Advisory and Training Team (CAATT), which supports the aviation capabilities of the Iraqi forces in the struggle to defeat ISIS combatants.
“On a daily basis I took on all three of these roles,” said Kriesel.
As U.S. and coalition partners arduously extract the last holdouts of ISIS fighters from Syria and Iraq, Kriesel reviewed the effects and lasting impacts of these joint combat endeavors.
“When trying to help empower the Iraqi Air Force, there were logistical breaks (in Iraq). Coalition partnerships helped bridge these resource gaps, empowering the Iraqi military’s success.”
Heading into his next adventure in East Africa, Kriesel will build on these lessons learned, expanding coalition accountabilities as he assumes his new role as the Deputy Commanding General, Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA).
“The geostrategic importance of Djibouti cannot be overemphasized,” he exclaimed, while detailing the vast size of the mission and area of responsibility within the African continent.
Referencing the sheer scale and area of coverage with his current CJTF-HOA assignment, Kriesel compared U.S. land size and places to stress the physical size of the area of operation.
“You can easily fit the entire (land area) Unites States over four times inside the continent of Africa,” he said, drawing on parallel benchmarks. “From the tip of Djibouti, all the way down to the far end of Somalia is like the extent of Maine to Miami!”
In detailing this broader mission scope, Kriesel described three areas of prominence that require the full attention of coalition partnerships in the East Africa region.
“It’s about bringing authentic solutions to combat terrorist activities, training to build comradeship and fostering coalition partnerships through the joint, interagency-inter governmental process.”
For this assignment, Kriesel’s aim is to build on his past success with his mission in the CJTF-HOA, while promoting regional security and long-term stability. This also involves preventing conflict in the region and safeguarding the U.S. and other coalition interests.
To promote these longer-term security and stability goals, coalition partners need to continue to foster trust with local communities through civic-minded projects. From establishing clean water resources to building schools and improving medical treatment clinics, the U.S. and coalition partners will remain engaged in multiple East Africa countries.
“For general officers, the opportunities for assignments like these are few, so you’ve got to excel in the joint and coalition environment,” Kriesel stated, explaining the expectations with the CJFT-HOA assignment. “I think my background and experience allowed someone like myself to be ready to take on this type of assignment.”
In a broader sense, this is the same impression he worked to impart during his leadership role for the Airmen of the Oregon Air National Guard.
“Resiliency is the key for our Airmen, the pace in both global and domestic operations (here) at home is not slowing down,” Kriesel said, stressing readiness and resolve for all currently serving military members. “This is why we need to be good teammates; we have to support each other to accomplish the task; at home or downrange.”
In summarizing his time as the Oregon Air National Guard Commander Kriesel said, “We wear the uniform to get ready to do something,” stressing the demands that all Citizen-Airmen need to embrace.
These include all aspects of training, physical fitness, leadership development and targeting educational accomplishments.
“I want our Airmen to know that importance of setting clear goals,” he said, when describing his leadership expectations for all serving Oregon Air Guardsmen. “By allowing (our) Airmen to attack their mission, with the resources they have and can build upon: success is inevitable!”