179 day deployments supporting Air Force operations?

  • Published
  • By Staff Report
  • Air Combat Command, Director of Weather
You're tagged and ready to deploy for a 120-day AEF 3/4 rotation supporting Air Force operations when suddenly, about six weeks before departure, your tour length is extended to 179 days. Wouldn't happen to you? Think again. This actually occurred this summer. Although Army weather support forces have been pulling 179-day rotations for years, up to this point, those supporting Air Force operations had been largely immune.

The good news is the tour lengths supporting Air Force operations were recently restored to 120 days. The bad news is few of us understood why it happened. In this case, the cause stemmed from how weather forces supporting Air Force operations were postured in the AEF. Posturing is a poorly understood yet vitally important component of the AEF construct.

Knowing what Unit Type Code you are in, how that UTC is postured in the AEF, and what posturing code is associated with that UTC is important.
A UTC is what the AEF Center actually tasks for deployment. It is a code that defines a required capability and can consist of one or more people and/or equipment. For example, an XWQA1 is a 1-person UTC requiring a 5-skill level. Posturing aligns these
UTCs with one of the ten AEFs. Your unit deployment manager should tell you the specific UTC and AEF you are assigned to soon after your arrival at a new duty station.
Once postured, the UTC is assigned a Posturing code. This P-code was a major factor behind the increased tour length mentioned before. P-codes indicate the UTCs availability for deployment during either normal "steady state" rotational operations or during surge operations such as those driven by a major war or multiple contingencies. Each P-code contains three digits.

Given these choices of P-code, most UTCs within an operations support squadron's weather flight are coded DWS or DXS; in other words, they are available to deploy for wartime or rotational, steady state, requirements. In contrast, operational weather squadron UTCs are more likely to be coded DPS or DPX, that is, supporting a combatant command requirement from home station. A limited number of OWS UTCs will be coded DPS and made available to deploy during a standard AEF rotation. The remainder will likely be coded DPX, indicating they are needed to sustain reachback capability and not available for deployment.

If we poorly posture and P-code UTCs, the AEF Center may task deployments in a way that unfairly burdens select individuals. That happened this summer because not all UTCs were postured and coded equivalently in each AEF pair. This created an artificial shortfall in 5-skill level forecasters, XWQA1, available for AEF 5/6. This forced the AEF Center to extend AEF 3/4 deployments for all XWQA1s from 120 to 179 days to meet the first half of AEF 5/6 requirements. That would have caused a domino effect in future AEF rotations as well. The inequity of having only 5-skill levels deploying with extended tour lengths not only strained morale but altered AEF predictability. In response, we revamped posturing and coding of UTCs Air Force wide. As a result, enough XWQA1s became available for the AEF Center to restore 120-day tour lengths for AEF 3/4.

Six month rotations can't always be avoided -- just ask one of your friends supporting deployed Army operations. However, if we properly posture and code our forces, we can minimize 179-day rotations as much as possible. Furthermore, we can increase predictability by better understanding how we're postured and coded since the AEF Center uses this information to determine who goes first, for how long, and who must remain at home station. However, make no mistake, you must be ready when your AEF bucket is called regardless of how you're coded -- if the need is great enough, you'll deploy!