Lieutenant colonel looks back on Operation Odyssey Dawn

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Cortney Paxton
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
He was taking his children to school like he did every other Friday, when his phone rang. It was only one short phone call, but it was a call that would change his spring plans, and more importantly, the United States forever.

Kevin Younkin, 341st Operations Support Squadron security specialist, hung up his phone February 25, 2011, knowing that he would be leaving the country within 72 hours in support of what would become Operation Odyssey Dawn. Younkin was asked to deploy as he wears a second hat as a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves, serving under the USTRANSCOM Joint Enabling Capabilities Command. He would eventually become the deputy chief for information operations of Odyssey Dawn.

Operation Odyssey Dawn, lead by U.S. Africa Command, was the United State's portion of operations against Libya. Due to an uprising against the government of Muammar al Qadhafi in Libya, international military intervention was being proposed throughout the U.S. and its coalition partners. The operation started as the United States, on behalf of President Obama, believed strongly that Qadhafi should relinquish power and leave the country as he and his government lost legitimacy.

On March 17, 2011, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1973, which authorized military intervention in Libya's civil war. The resolution demanded "an immediate cease-fire" and authorized the establishment of a no-fly zone. All actions projected under the resolution were comprised with the purpose of saving civilian lives.

"It all started with a non-combatant evacuation operation - that's why I originally got the phone call," Younkin said. "That's why my team from the Joint Enabling Capabilities Command was initially called to go over to plan and help execute evacuation of U.S. citizens from Libya. Once the UN decided they were going to act to support their Security Council resolution, then due to U.S. presidential direction, we were directed to begin planning for combat operations. "

Combat operations were being planned to neutralize Libyan ground-to-air, anti-aircraft sites to support the implementation of a no-fly zone and also to employ the cease-fire operation against Qadhafi. The beginning of these operations was engaged on March 19, 2011, and continued until the transfer of command from the U.S. to NATO on March 30, 2011.

Operation Odyssey Dawn recently had its one-year anniversary, which was marked on the calendars of the operation's participants, like Younkin.

"[Being] told to begin planning combat operations was a memorable moment for me, because up until that time it was a humanitarian aid mission - non-combatant evacuation operations and humanitarian aid operations by moving third-country nationals back home," Younkin said. "I'd never been there at the beginning of combat operations like that."

Younkin spent most of his time supporting Operation Odyssey Dawn afloat in the Mediterranean on the USS Mount Whitney, one of two Navy Command and Control ships, as the deputy chief of information operations.

"Information operations consist of five different core capabilities: Military information support operations, electronic warfare, computer network operations, military deception and operations security," he said. "Basically, we did full-spectrum. That was our charge - full-spectrum information operations throughout the duration of the operation."

The hours were long and the operation was fast-paced, leaving the crew physically drained. But every member had the same determined attitude, making the cooperation between them, as well as the whole situation, easier to deal with.

"You could not do enough fast enough, and that's just the way it was," Younkin admitted. "I was working about 20 hours a day and eventually I got so wore out that I ended up getting walking pneumonia. The staff down through the subordinate units did an amazing job. When your sole focus is protecting people, it's amazing how everything falls together. Everybody had a single purpose in mind. We had no idea of when the end was, at least for a while, but all you knew was it was going to be short-term so you just kept pushing and hoping that your body didn't give out before then. Plus, there really was no other choice - you had things you had to do and people were counting on you."

The USS Mount Whitney, the Joint Task Force flagship, held most ranks of every branch of military service. Although Younkin had experience working jointly with different services, there were a few firsts for him during the operation. This experience was his first time working with Coast Guard and being on a Navy ship.

"I have a whole newfound respect for what the Marines and Sailors go through," he said, recalling his experience on the ship. "[Working jointly] has really broadened my perspective as far as seeing how other services react to certain things. Every service has their own nuance - their own style of doing things. Every service is extremely good at what they do. Frankly, since we've started working jointly, every service has embraced that and it's amazing what we can do as a joint force."

By the time the operation was transferred to NATO command; Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and Airmen all went home with a successful mission behind them. Younkin was back to Malmstrom within 60 days of the initial call.

"One of the main objectives throughout the whole operation was to protect innocent people's lives, and I feel we did that," Younkin said. "I think it was very good to show the American public that America can take part in a conflict and we can set clear-cut objectives, we can meet those, and we can come out of that conflict on our own terms. I was proud to be a part of it."

Besides Operation Odyssey Dawn, Younkin has been a part of many military duties. Before transferring to the Reserves, he was active-duty serving here on Malmstrom as a missileer in the 490th Missile Squadron and an instructor with the 341st OSS. His military service has been broad and partial to Malmstrom, but his heart has been home with his wife, Becky, and two sons, Braden, 10, and Logan, 7.

"I'm proud of my service," he said.

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