RMC grads hold majority at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar

Feature photo

L-R  (All RMC/CMR/RRMC grads)

20229 Maj Serge Parisien, 24959 Capt Matthew Gallaway, 23761 Capt Ryan Hofrichter, u/k# Capt Emily Murray, 18067 Col Jean Bernier, 23415 Maj Lauren Banks, 20836 LCol Christopher Robidoux, 22558 Maj Sandra Price, 20952 Maj Dave Murphy, 16340 BGen Alain Pelletier.

RMC grads hold majority at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar

Article by: 22558 Sandra Price (2003)

Sandra Price

When people hear that I was recently deployed, the assumption is that I was in Kuwait under Op IMPACT.  It’s no surprise, as we have such a large number of CAF members deployed to that location and under that Operation, however, both military and non-military friends have been surprised to hear that there are CAF members serving in Qatar, and under a lesser-known Operation, Op FOUNDATION.  In fact, there are currently Canadians deployed to Al Udeid Air Base (AUAB), Qatar, under Op FOUNDATION, Op IMPACT, and up to 2 Canadians deployed with the USAF while serving in OUTCAN positions.  Once most people are reminded of where the small country of Qatar is located, they often had many more questions to ask.  Having had such an incredible experience there and alongside a terrific group of people (which turned out to be a predominantly RMCC-grad team) I thought I should share a bit about my deployment and the footprint that the CAF has in Qatar.

The State of Qatar is made up of only 11590 km2 of land on the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula.  Its sole land border is with Saudi Arabia to the south, with the rest of its territory surrounded by the Persian Gulf.  Though Qatar and the United States had been involved in joint military operations at AUAB since Operation Desert Storm, in 2003, the State of Qatar offered to host the U.S. Combat Air Operations Center for the Middle East, which was then relocated from Prince Sultan Air Base in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  AUAB is now home to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing and within it, the 609th Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC).  The United States Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) is headquartered at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, with its forward headquarters at AUAB.  AFCENT is the Air Force component of USCENTCOM, the Command responsible for U.S. security interests in 27 nations that stretch from the Horn of Africa through the Persian Gulf region, and into Central Asia. AUAB is home to approximately 10 000 coalition members at any given time and has the longest runway in the Arabian Gulf.

Op FOUNDATION is an Operation that has CAF personnel stationed in Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, and serving at the USCENTCOM HQ in Tampa, Florida.  Stood up in 2003, military personnel deploying with Op FOUNDATION have supported the U.S.-led coalition conducting the campaign against terrorism through Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Inherent Resolve.  In Qatar, CAF personnel are stationed at AUAB, where the CAOC provides command and control of air power throughout Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and 17 other nations in the AFCENT Area of Responsibility (AOR). While the CAOC is predominantly made up of USAF and U.S. Army personnel, there are 17 other countries that make up the coalition.

 

 AUAB is managed by the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, though it remains a Qatari Air Base through a defence cooperation agreement between the United States and the State of Qatar.  This adds some interesting logistical issues for visas/base access/immigration/service flights etc. for the non-US coalition partners.  Deployed personnel under Op FOUNDATION are embedded directly into the USAF positions in the CAOC, with the exception of the Canadian Liaison Officer, who does not have a USAF section chief.  The current positions under Op FOUNDATION include the CAOC Director (BGen, rotates between RCAF, RAAF, and RAF on a 6-month basis), Deputy Director Air Mobility Division and Senior National Representative (Col, year-long deployment), Deputy Director Combat Operations Division (LCol), Canadian Liaison Officer (Maj), Strategy Planner (Capt/Maj), Dynamic Targeting Chief (Capt), Deputy Collection Management Chief (Capt), and Space Operator (Sgt).

The CAF supports the coalition to dismantle and ultimately defeat Daesh, through Op IMPACT, operating under the command and control of Joint Task Force- Iraq (JTF-I) and the air component through Air Task Force-Iraq (ATF-I).  With the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability of the CP-140 Aurora and air-to-air refuelling (AAR) capability of the CC-150 Polaris operating out of Kuwait, this support is coordinated by Op IMPACT Liaison Officers and an Intelligence Officer at the CAOC.  They ensure that the work that the RCAF is doing is accurately integrated into the Battle Plan and overall air picture.  In the case of the AAR, our Canadian Tanker is scheduled into the precisely orchestrated plan and refuels other coalition aircraft on a tight schedule.  In addition to the CP140 Liaison Officer and ATF-I Coordination Element Chief (Maj), and the AAR Liaison Officer (Capt), there is also an Op IMPACT Intelligence Officer who liaises between the ATF-I and the CAOC. There are currently 3 other positions working out of the CAOC filling roles as embeds including a Cyber Planner (Maj), a Mission Analysis Planner (Capt), and another Intelligence Officer.  These positions are Op Foundation in nature as embeds but fall under the Op Impact position numbers at this time.

During my deployment, several RCAF Officers arrived at the CAOC to work as Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACCS) liaison officers, deployed out of Tinker AFB, Oklahoma.  Though they were separate from both FOUNDATION and IMPACT, as they are under US Orders, their involvement gave Canada one more role to play on the Combat Operations floor.  With only approximately 16 CAF members at AUAB at a given time within a base of 10 000, we were able to form solid bonds and share experiences in a coalition setting.  The experience to have been able to work in the USAF environment was incredible.  The airpower that the USAF has is something that is hard to describe until one sees it in action – either by seeing the rows and rows of aircraft lined up on the ramp, or by watching the overhead electronic displays of all of the aircraft working in the USCENTCOM AOR.  The coordination that takes place in the CAOC is incredible and showed us all a much bigger picture than what we see in our day-to-day jobs back home.

While the other OP FOUNDATION personnel were filling embed positions with the CAOC, I had the role as the Canadian Liaison Officer.  I was responsible to ensure the Canadian National Mission aircraft flying in the AOR were integrated into the daily Air Tasking Order (ATO).  There are a number of Canadian Service flights constantly bringing supplies and personnel into, and around the theatre of operations and coordination with both ATF-I Ops, as well as the Air Operations Centre in Winnipeg, among other agencies, was critical to ensuring our national missions could conduct their operations properly with the appropriate diplomatic clearances and integration on the ATO.  The other part of my role involved a multitude of coordination for general deployment and personnel issues and finances, as well as working with the Canadian Embassy in Doha, and with the Defence Attaché staff in Abu Dhabi, UAE.   It was also a terrific experience to work with the Qatari military personnel and to learn their customs and ways of working as we often struggled with Qatari base access requirements.  As with many Middle Eastern Countries, this involved building relationships through office calls to drink tea and make small talk so that when we have an issue, there is a level of familiarity in place.  That is the hope though, as it does take some time to get used to this non-Western way of doing business.

My job as the liaison officer covered so many responsibilities that it also encompassed being the visits Officer and the main driver, including VIP visits.  We hosted both the RCAF and CJOC Comd teams during my tour and while the traffic in Doha is hectic at the best of times, we experienced the added pressure of meeting timings for Qatari military office calls and driving one of the most senior Command teams around the city of Doha to meet the appointments and avoid getting into an accident!  As luck would have it, the emir’s grandfather and former emir, passed away a few days before LGen Hood’s visit and at the last minute, there was a funeral procession (what ended up being a high speed show of expensive vehicles on all of the closed main highways) at the exact time we were trying to head to the airport in a 2 car convoy through downtown Doha.  I’m grateful that LGen Hood didn’t give me as hard of a time as he could have – he simply good-heartedly critiqued the complicated route that myself and 23967 Capt Nick Veenhoff tried to use to get around the blocked traffic and to the airport.  CWO Poitras was in the second vehicle with the Canadian Defence Attaché, 18176 Col Martin Laflamme and our Sgt as the driver trying to do a similar navigation using ‘smart’ phones.  Needless to say, their flight took off without them but it was one of the parts of the job that added some excitement and it reinforced that even a perfectly orchestrated plan can take a turn on a moment’s notice.

While the pace of work was high and the temperature was hot, there were times when we could visit the beautiful city of Doha.  This was dependent, of course, on the security situation, and work schedules, but it gave us another perspective of the culture from a civilian perspective.  As the liaison officer, I was downtown quite often to visit the Embassy or to negotiate visa issues, and I felt fairly safe and found everyone very respectful and accepting of westerners.  (The driving practices took a bit of time to get used to and I may still be a bit aggressive now driving in the streets of Fredericton!)  We were, of course, very careful about our attire and deportment, especially during Ramadan in order to show respect for the culture.  Doha is a very multi-cultural city given that only 12% of the population are actual Qatari nationals.   When we were downtown, we were often among people of other nationalities – there was even a Canadian hockey team that played once a week at a rink in a nearby mall!

A little-known fact that many of us didn’t realize until we got to Qatar is that the Canadian College of the North Atlantic, based out of Gander NL, is among several Canadian institutions that have campuses in Doha.  We were able to visit their beautiful campus and meet a few of the 430 Canadian faculty members who teach there.  For our Sgt, a proud Newfoundlander, he felt quite at home with the predominantly Newfoundland-born and raised teachers and (of course) ended up knowing a few of them once they started talking about hometowns and family members.  Another school that we became familiar with was Blyth Academy, which also has a predominantly Canadian teacher-base and an incredible multinational student population.  We were invited to Blythe Academy’s Remembrance Day service and the students were so appreciative of our attendance, we ended up having a bit of a celebrity status – which was a little overwhelming but we certainly felt appreciated!  We were also invited to the Official Canadian Remembrance Day service at one of the Canadian Compounds with the Ambassador of Canada to the State of Qatar, Adrian Norfolk.  We felt quite at home sharing the memorable service with fellow Canadians and we were also fairly excited to share some Tim Horton’s coffee after the service.  The sense of Canadian community that we felt at both of those events on Remembrance Day was quite an experience and it’s no surprise that Canadians feel a draw to moving to the Middle East to experience a different culture, but are still able to maintain a sense of Canadian community.

While this deployment location may not very well-known, I would highly recommend it to anyone.  The experience of working in the coalition environment and in the heart of a coalition Air War coordination centre is one that is hard to replicate.  The benefit of being able to discover a beautiful city was an added benefit that many people will never experience.

Time out for R&R – L-R.  Maj Dave Murphy, Maj Sandra Price, 22154 Capt Tyler Thorbergson.

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