Building partnerships, improving interoperability, and embracing U.S. allies within the Indo-Pacific region is a top priority for the Total Force and one particular civilian plays a big role in making that happen.
Meet Robyn Leigh Disselkoen Russell, deputy chief of international affairs, Directorate of Strategy Plans, Programs and Requirements at Pacific Air Forces and winner of the Headquarters Air Force International Affairs Excellence Award for 2019. Her job includes overseeing security cooperation operations, activities and investments with multilateral and bilateral engagements for all U.S. partner nations in the Indo-Pacific region.
During her tenure, she has managed senior officer visit requirements, International Military Personnel Exchange Program, Professional Military Education Program, and Foreign Liaison Officer Programs, among many others.
In 2019, she led efforts for the commander, Pacific Air Forces-hosted Pacific Air Chiefs Symposium 2019, the premier air chief event in the Indo-Pacific, which was the largest in PACAF history and included 19 air chiefs from around the region including then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein. Goldfein said that “PACS 19 was the benchmark for air chief key leader engagements and was not just an event but an experience.”
Additionally, Disselkoen Russell’s leadership was integral to the successful PACAF legislative proposal to add air domain awareness operations as a primary justification for Section 333 “Train and Equip” funding resulting in its inclusion in the National Defense Authorization Act 2021. Finally, she led efforts to strengthen PACAF proposals for security cooperation funding resulting in over $100 million in training and equipment for key allies and partners in the region.
When asked how international partnerships advances U.S. strategic initiatives in the Indo-Pacific, Disselkoen Russell explained, “The United States is inextricably tied to the Indo-Pacific region. This is the fastest-growing economic and demographic region in the world with more than half of the world’s population and four out of five of the top U.S. trade import and export partners.”
Her leadership and planning efforts proved integral to advancing ally and partner ties across the Indo-Pacific region, and this made her stand out amongst her peers to be recognized as the U.S. Air Force’s top senior civilian for international affairs. She was recently able to receive the International Affairs Excellence award during a small ceremony at the Pentagon.
“The fact that my nomination was chosen for the award, among so many other competitive applicants, underscores the criticality of the Indo-Pacific region to our current national defense priorities,” Disselkoen Russell said. “What used to be known as the ‘sleepy Pacific’ has now become the United States’ number one region for strategic competition in our generation.”
The award recognizes individuals for outstanding and innovative contributions that had the greatest impact in international affairs and were most effective in building, sustaining, expanding, and guiding international relationships.
“I believe her selection for this award was not only due to her exceptional leadership and performance on a daily basis but also her willingness to look for new innovative solutions,” said Col. Daniel Munter, International Affairs Division chief, Headquarters PACAF. “Her dedication and advanced planning to make PACS 19 the largest and most well-executed air chief event in PACAF history, to pursue air domain awareness operations legislative proposal, and to pursue training and equipment resourcing for our partners were all examples of innovative solutions to best assist our allies and partners throughout the region and will have lasting impacts well into the future.”
With PACAF being the “tippy end of the spear” as Disselkoen Russell called it, it is “responsible for engaging and equipping U.S. partner air forces to ensure they are ready to go toe-to-toe with adversaries, who are attempting to dismantle international rules and norms that underscore continued peace and prosperity in the region.”
PACAF’s area of responsibility is home to 60% of the world’s population, in 36 nations spread across 53% of the Earth’s surface and 16 time zones, with more than 1,000 languages spoken. The U.S. has partners and allies all across the region who partake in numerous exercises, events, missions and humanitarian relief efforts that support a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
“Maintaining our military advantage in the Indo-Pacific hinges on continuing to expand our existing network of regional allies and partners,” Disselkoen Russell said. “These coalition partnerships, in particular, our ability to effectively interoperate as a coalition force, represents our greatest asymmetric advantage against regional adversaries. The inroads we’ve made in the last two years are incumbent upon continued, national-level commitment and attention to the Indo-Pacific region.”