News | June 11, 2014

Reserve squadron's training program preserves theater expertise

By Dana Lineback 940th Wing Public Affairs

When Col. James Kovac talks about the Korean theater of operations, Air Force leadership listens.

That respect from top brass has been earned.

Kovac, a traditional reservist with the 701st Combat Operations Squadron, March Air Reserve Base, California, has accumulated 18 years' military experience, including 25 major exercises, in the Korean area of responsibility.

As Air Force expertise across today's joint military environment becomes increasingly vital, Kovac has become impassioned about cultivating a team of theater experts through a new program, the Joint Air Component Coordination Element.

Kovac and Brig. Gen. Robert Polumbo, mobilization assistant to the commander, 12th Air Force, have worked together to solidify JACCE as a certified program with an extensive training criteria.

The JACCE program focuses on developing teams of experienced personnel from across the spectrum of six major functional areas represented in an air operations center. The program's goal is to provide combatant commanders with trusted advisors trained to lead in a joint, multinational environment.

"Establishing good relationships requires a profound understanding of the professional and personal culture of members from other branches of service, as well as a big-picture understanding of a joint operation," Kovac said.

"The aim of JACCE is to work as a team with a commander and his AOC. We're providing expertise, but it's important to be humble, approachable and credible in that role. It's not about who's right, but what's right," Kovac said.

The program is a tradeoff of active duty dollars for reserve component continuity, with JACCE team members having an average of seven years' experience in theater, according to Kovac. He contends the program is a perfect mission for the Reserve component.

"The active duty's corporate knowledge experiences a changeover every few years. The continuity for this level of expertise lies within the Guard and Reserve. You can't buy this kind of expertise. It takes years to develop."

Other members of the 701 COS have joined Kovac in his efforts, working to capture lessons learned, compile concept products, and implement a three-year certification program to develop JACCE directors.

Tech. Sgt. Tom Fabrie and Master Sgt. John Ervin, along with Maj. Todd Nerlin, assistant director of operations, and Master Sgt. Shawn Bowen, JACCE superintendent, have spent 18 months developing an extensive communications directory and the program's training plan.

Kovac said the training program is rigorous, with three levels of certification. Participants maintain a dual-career certification and must commit to participating in a minimum number of joint exercises annually to stay current.

"This certification ensures we're sending the right people to participate in these major exercises or, if the situation arises, a real-world contingency. What this training does is clearly define the role of a JACCE director so every combatant commander and each element of an AOC can depend on the capability of that director and his team."

Col. Kevin Cavanagh agrees the program is demanding, but professionally rewarding. Cavanagh, former commander of the 940th Wing, Beale Air Force Base, California, has participated in the JACCE training program for the past two years.

"This is a full-up training program that prepares Reserve senior leaders to integrate and build relationships with U.S. and Korean naval, air and land component commanders in this theater," Cavanagh said.

As the incoming deputy director of air, space and information operations at Air Force Reserve Command headquarters, Cavanagh said he will advocate for continued Reserve commitment to the program.

"In my new position, I hope to encourage AFRC to consider expanding its role in this training," he said.

The JACCE program's successes at major exercises, including KEY RESOLVE and ULCHI FREEDOM GUARDIAN, have garnered Pacific Air Force's praise and piqued the interest of United States Air Forces Europe, according to Kovac.

"Headquarters units aware of the resource a JACCE provides are clamoring for more," he said.

Fulfilling the growing demand for training JACCE directors has fallen on the 701 COS team. Kovac met recently with Air Force Reserve leaders to request funding to formalize the program.

"We've proposed a mobile training team to take the concept to other theaters of operation. The issue, of course, is funding for the program," Kovac said.

In spite of service-wide funding challenges, he's hopeful about the possibility of expanding JACCE.

Maj. Gen. Donald Ralph, mobilization assistant to the commander, USAFE and Air Forces Africa, shares Kovac's optimism.

On the heels of his participation in JACCE training at KEY RESOLVE '14, Ralph recently advocated for bringing the training program to other theaters.

"Leadership wants this capability in our theaters. The next step would be the 'how' and 'what will it look like' as the Korean and European theaters train under very different sets of assumptions," Ralph relayed to Maj. Gen. William Binger, 10th Air Force commander.

In his feedback, Ralph touted the value of the JACCE program and praised the training efforts of Kovac and his team, urging Binger to recognize the 701 COS for all the unit is doing, in addition to their Korean mission, for the Reserve, European Command and USAFE.

The top-level support is validating to Kovac.

"The JACCE program is an exposure to what's out there in organizational training and certification tracking, with the ultimate goal of producing an invaluable list of 'go to' theater experts for our combatant commanders," Kovac said.

"The importance of preserving our lessons learned and protecting our relationships in the various theaters of operation simply can't be overstated."