One of the issues Congress is facing over the Libya confrontation is whether the operation requires the Congress, under the War Powers Act, to approve the continued deployment of US forces. Putting aside the question over the “constitutionality” of the War Powers resolution … and as an Airman, there is not a doubt in my mind that those who are flying over Libya are in combat. They are having ordnance fired at them. They are receiving combat orders from the command chain. They are firing weapons against ground targets, gathering intelligence, keeping the skies clear of Libyan aircraft – all of which are war functions. In fact, the Department of Defense recognizes this and has authorized combat pay for those involved.
This is not the first time Airpower has been considered by some to be “non-war.” At the end of Desert Storm, both GEN Powell and GEN Schwartzkopf talked about the “100 hour war.” Of course the reality of the conflict was that it was a 1,000 hour war … with Airmen of all Services fighting, dying and being captured during the first 900 hours.
Many commentators today talk about the first Gulf War and the second Gulf War. These are terms which should be excised from our language. For Airmen … as well as naval and marine aviators, the end of Desert Storm marked the beginning of Operation Southern Watch followed shortly by Operation Northern Watch. These brave warriors flew constantly over Iraq enforcing the No-Fly Zones. They were attacked by a variety of surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft guns, and aircraft. They were constantly illuminated by air defense radars. They endured this from 1991 through 2003 when Operation Iraqi Freedom began. In fact, the Air Force has been at war over and in Iraq constantly for the past 20 years.
And … going back to WWII, few people know that the 8th Air Force – the 8th Air Force alone lost more men than the entire US Marine Corps.
To characterize air operations any other way diminishes the contributions and the sacrifices of the many brave Airmen who risked their lives in our defense. We should all correct those who do not understand this point.