Reflections on Airpower: The Heart of the Force

Jason Koxvold and Dan Ryan


Portrait of an airman: An airman makes a video call back to his family in the United States from an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. (Jason Koxvold)

The results of airpower that most people see is only the tip of the iceberg. Generating a single aircraft sortie requires an enormous number of personnel and a massive infrastructure. In total, aircrew personnel comprise only five percent of the Air Force. It is these few personnel who will pilot the aircraft into enemy territory to deliver air power. The other 95% of airmen play a critical role in their own right in enabling aircrew––people like me––to do their job.

An airman stands outside a hangar at the Air Warfare Center in Al Dhafra, UAE. (Jason Koxvold)

Portraits of airmen: left, a USAF Senior Master Sergeant in Southwest Asia; right, a USAF maintainer in Southwest Asia. (Jason Koxvold)

Jason Koxvold’s pictures contain a diverse group of airmen deployed away from their families for 4-12 months at a time to sustain that critical infrastructure and provide the manpower that makes air power a reality. The physically demanding work required by these jobs is only made tougher by the extreme weather of the region. It is not uncommon for temperatures in the summer months to hover around 115 degrees and not dip back below 100 until two or three in the morning. Operations don’t stop because it is hot outside, though, and these airmen continue to preflight, repair, and maintain jets around the clock, working 12 hour shifts for several days straight.

Portraits of airmen: left, an F-22 maintainer in Southwest Asia; right, an RQ-4 Global Hawk maintainer in Southwest Asia. (Jason Koxvold)

An airman makes a video call back to his family in the United States from an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. (Jason Koxvold)

Additionally, the security and sanctuary of an airfield is a high priority on the minds of not only commanders but also the aircrew themselves. For commanders it is the fact the very personnel who make the mission possible are clustered together with billions of dollars of equipment at one airfield. A single C-17 costs approximately $225 million while the F-22 pictured in the Offensive Strike essay costs approximately $150 million. Many of the production facilities that manufactured these platforms in these images have long since closed, making the aircraft––like the airmen who support and fly them––truly irreplaceable.

Australian and US Security Forces provide a layer of security at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. (Jason Koxvold)

Left, a U-2 pilot’s pressure helmet; right, USAF maintainers at work in Southwest Asia. (Jason Koxvold)

For the aircrew, however, it is not as much about the cost of the airframe as it is the confidence of knowing that their jet hasn’t been tampered with and that only specifically authorized personnel have been allowed to enter the secure area of the flight line. While every pilot conducts a final walk around before starting engines, it is impossible to open every panel or thoroughly inspect every crevice of the aircraft. The men and women of the Security Forces support the Air Force mission by not only securing the metal we will hurl through the sky at hundreds of miles an hour, but also by providing us a secure area to live and operate from when we aren’t flying over contested spaces.

Portraits of airmen: left, a USAF maintainer in Southwest Asia; right, a USAF maintainer in Southwest Asia. (Jason Koxvold)

Portraits of airmen: left, a USAF maintainer in Southwest Asia; right, a USAF Staff Sergeant in Southwest Asia. (Jason Koxvold)

Yet none of this would be possible without the airmen who work in civil engineering. They work under challenging conditions with limited supplies to keep these bases functioning, and when needed, forward deploy to airfields like Q-West and the Kobani LZ in Syria to build or repair runways and maintain or improve other infrastructure. While these airmen may not be the face of the war effort, they are the foundation on which everything the Air Force does is built upon.

Portrait of an airman: a USAF Technical Sergeant watches the 2016 Election begin to tip towards a Trump victory at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. (Jason Koxvold)

Since 1947, the U.S. Air Force has relied on the personnel like those pictured here to enable the unmatched air power demonstrated every day in the U.S Central Command area of responsibility. Paraphrasing General George Patton, wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men and women. These are the men and women who make air power possible.

Jason Koxvold is a Featured Contributor on The Strategy Bridge and a widely published photographer based in Brooklyn, NY. He has worked in every corner of the globe, from Arctic Russia to South Africa, China to Nigeria; his most recent deployment was with Operation Resolute Support in Kabul and Bagram. You can find his work in magazines including Newsweek JapanWiredSlate, and National Geographic Traveler. See Jason’s photographs at and follow him on Twitter at @jkoxvold.

Dan Ryan is an U.S. Air Force officer. He is an Associate Member of the Military Writers GuildThe views expressed in this article are the author’s alone, and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Air Force.

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Header Image: A canine unit provides a layer of security at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. (Jason Koxvold)