- - Wednesday, April 26, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty… If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Col. Charles Yancey, Jan. 6, 1816.

Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2017, was a federal holiday for most people in the National Capital Region. While most federal offices around the region were empty, Airmen assigned to the Air Force District of Washington were on duty!

While most sat at home watching the historical event, members of AFDW stood watch as the Inaugural events unfolded in real time, ready to act at a moment’s notice in case something did not go as planned.

This readiness, what we call “contingency operations” in the military, and what Jefferson refers to as “eternal vigilance,” is the primary but little-known mission of AFDW and one of the principal reasons AFDW was created.

Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a need for a stronger homeland defense structure and cooperation between agencies was identified. As most are aware, the Department of Homeland Security was created to address this need, but there was another major change to the defense structure that is less well known: the creation of Joint Force Headquarters – National Capital Region.

Washington, D.C., as the nation’s capital, faces a myriad of unique challenges, ranging from the threat of potential terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and support to civil authorities. JFHQ-NCR was created to address and reduce this emerging threat and to provide a contingency response capability if needed and if called upon. The Headquarters serves as a central point to coordinate and provide military capabilities to civil authorities should they be needed during an emergency response, and AFDW provides the Air Force component to this joint effort. To use Jefferson’s words, we are the eternally vigilant protecting the National Capital Region.

Day-to-day, the operational support mission of AFDW is mostly administrative. AFDW is an Air Force Major Command-equivalent, a Direct Reporting Unit, with our area of responsibility being the National Capital Region. Additionally, we serve as the catch-all for Airmen around the world whose mission does not naturally fit under a regional or functional Major Command. We provide legal, financial management, contracting, human resources, communications, security and safety and logistical support for all of these Airmen. These services and support are provided to more than 32,000 Airmen and their families, globally.

The AFDW team also includes the Air Force Honor Guard, Air Force Band and Arlington Chaplaincy, under the 11th Wing. Through these units, AFDW exercises the ceremonial honors arm of its mission, supporting daily full-honors funerals at Arlington National Cemetery as well as a myriad of special events that take place in the region and across the Nation.

Our daily operational support and ceremonial honors missions keep us busy, but we never forget our primary mission: contingency response. AFDW is constantly preparing, planning and practicing our response to an attack, manmade or natural disaster, or other catastrophic situation in the National Capital Region.

As the United States Air Force celebrates its 70th Birthday this year, around the country we will honor this monumental event with open houses, air shows and demonstrations to highlight the innovation, teamwork and heritage of the greatest air force in the world. These events are fun, exciting and showcase some of the awesome missions of our Nation’s Air Force. What you won’t see is the less glamorous, behind-the-scenes missions of the Air Force, like that of AFDW’s contingency response.

We hope that we will never be called upon to act, but rest assured that if we are we will be ready! For those living and working in the National Capital Region, we’ve got your back. We’re here to answer Jefferson’s call!

• Darryl W. Burke, a U.S. Air Force major general, is commander of the Air Force District of Washington.

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