Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Personnel Recovery: Strategic Importance and Impact

Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Personnel Recovery: Strategic Importance and Impact

Article excerpt

America's greatest asset is its people.

- President Barack Obama

The breaking news from countless media venues in March 2011 was captivating and compelling: while taking part in coalition operations in Libya, a US Air Force F-15E, call sign Bolar 34, had gone down east of Benghazi. The two crew members had ejected into a chaotic battle between the despotic Libyan regime and opposition forces supported by the coalition. As our nation prayed for the two Airmen, President Barack Obama heard a briefing on the event and monitored the situation as rescue forces from a US Marine task force in the area and opposition ground forces quickly dashed in to recover both men. In many ways, this heartwarming story resembled accounts of other rescues performed in earlier conflicts. The saga of Bolar 34 joined the lore of rescue missions that grace the proud history of our nation.1

As this vignette highlights, such dramatic rescue events, referred to as personnel recovery (PR), quickly capture the attention of the American people. However, the body of writing on these missions has mostly focused upon specific events and their operational or tactical aspects. They accentuate the substantial effort that the US Department of Defense (DOD) expends to rescue or assist in the recovery of those American citizens, members of the military, and even allied personnel who are missing, isolated in enemy-controlled territory, or detained. Such efforts are warranted because Americans- the very flesh and blood of our great country, who volunteer to serve our nation- are our most important "resource."

This article takes a broader look at this mission, primarily in terms of its strategic importance or impact, and demonstrates how PR has engaged and sometimes challenged many of our presidents, their executive subordinate organizations, and our military leaders. It offers our leaders at all levels of command a concise essay on PR, giving them an opportunity to better understand its challenges and the role they may play in its processes. Furthermore, the article points out to them situations in which they may need to become directly involved and the effect that PR may have on their commands or organizations. Overall, it seeks to ensure that leaders at all levels have the knowledge necessary to handle these events. Toward that end, the article analyzes PR at the strategic level of war, examines current national and DOD policy on PR, reviews the evolving threats to our people, presents historical vignettes that illustrate how PR has had a strategic effect in specific instances, and shows how the DOD's PR community has evolved from and with these events. Lastly, it assesses the impact of PR by presenting an amalgamation of noted lessons, which can prove useful in addressing the emerging threats and future challenges to PR.

Personnel Recovery at the Strategie Level of War

Joint Publication (JP) 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, defines the strategic level of war as one "at which a nation, often as a member of a group of nations, determines national or multinational (alliance or coalition) strategic security objectives and guidance, then develops and uses national resources to achieve those objectives."2 The president and his senior leaders provide strategic direction to the nation by communicating the necessary overarching guidance, which defines strategic interests through the publication of the National Security Strategy (NSS) and the National Military Strategy of the United States of America NMS). They also use strategic communication to engage key audiences both domestically and internationally to "create, strengthen, or preserve conditions favorable for the advancement of United States Government interests, policies, and objectives."3

Emphasizing a whole-of-government approach to our international affairs, the ? SS presents four enduring national interests:

* The security of the United States, its citizens, and U. …

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