NATO Allied Air Command, USAFE commander visits Castle Forge

  • Published
  • By Capt. Andrew Layton
  • U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa Public Affairs

On Oct. 28, Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander of NATO Allied Air Command and U.S. Air Forces Europe – Air Forces Africa, made a special visit to Larissa Air Base, Greece, during operation Castle Forge, a USAFE-AFAFRICA-led joint, multinational training event that demonstrates Agile Combat Employment.

Blue and white flags of the Hellenic Republic flapped against an equally blue sky as Harrigian stepped from his transport jet onto the tarmac. He was warmly greeted by Lt. Gen. Themistoklis Bourolias, chief of the Hellenic Tactical Air Force. Harrigian’s visit coincided with Oxi Day, an important patriotic holiday in Greece.

“Castle Forge is about being quick, it’s about not sticking to one way of operating, and it’s about doing it with our partners,” said Harrigian. “That’s how we’re going to have to fight if we’re ever called upon to do it in the real world.”

The operation kicked off Oct. 6 when F-15E Strike Eagles from the 336th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Wing, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, arrived at Larissa AB. The Strike Eagles trained for a week alongside F-16 Fighting Falcons from the Hellenic Air Force, then made a pair of rapid dispersals to Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, and Borcea Air Base, Romania. The spirit of partnership continued, with integrated training sorties alongside F-16s of the Romanian Air Force and MiG-29s of the Bulgarian Air Force. Back in Greece, the F-15s are flying alongside Greek allies again before more dispersals later in the month.

Harrigian visited the operations and maintenance facilities at Larissa utilized by the F-15 aircrews. To a group of U.S. maintainers, he pointed out that Castle Forge is an historic milestone for the USAFE theater of operations for its demonstration of Agile Combat Employment, a concept that has become central to how the U.S. engages with its NATO allies and regional partners to strengthen interoperability.

“We’ve done it with our squadrons and wings here at USAFE, but we haven’t done it before with a unit that came from the states,” said Harrigian. “This is a lot more flexible, a lot more agile, and we’ve put it in your hands to figure out how to do it.”

ACE ensures forces are ready for potential threats and contingencies by allowing them to quickly disperse and continue to deliver air power from locations with varying levels of capacity and support.

“I’m hopeful that as you have gone through this experience, you’re seeing what we’re trying to do,” said Harrigian. “That is to get you out here quickly, and then demonstrate to those adversaries that like to see us operate very predictably out of one or two locations that we can be a lot more agile than that.”

Harrigian paused to recognize several junior enlisted Airmen whose quick thinking has helped keep the F-15s airborne during Castle Forge. He emphasized their ability to innovate, which ACE demands to make things happen with timelines and resources previously thought to be impossible.

“At the end of the day you’re delivering combat capability,” he said. “And I know if we had to go out and do it for real, you would lead the charge.”