18th Air Force: A Decade of Change

  • Published
  • By Maj. Michael Meridith
  • 18th Air Force
As it has ever since its 2003 "rebirth" the 18th Air Force continues to change to meet the demands of a dynamic operational environment while staying true to the ethos of "speed, safety, and success" represented in its emblem.

One of the earliest and most notable of these changes occurred on Jan. 6, 2011, when five units transferred from the 18th Air Force to the command of the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center (USAFEC) at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. Included in the transition were the 87th Air Base Wing at Joint Base M-D-L, the 628th ABW at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., the 627th Air Base Group at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., the 43rd Airlift Group at Pope Army Air Field, N.C, and the 319th Air Refueling Wing at Grand Forks AFB, N.D.

The 18th Air Force Commander, Lt. Gen. Robert Allardice at the time, retained operational control of Airmen in these units (a control 18th Air Force retains to this day), but the change reduced his administrative burden, allowing him greater focus on the command's worldwide mobility flying operations. The need for that focus had become obvious over the years, reflected in a doubling of the 18th Air Force's headquarters staff between 2003 and 2010. During the same time the headquarters also added Operations and Plans directorates as well as an integration cell to leverage other key Air Mobility Command staff members performing operational tasks supporting the command's mission.

Ultimately, the changes reflected a reality made clear by world events: there was a need for an operational warfighting component between the organize, train, and equip duties of AMC and the tactical operations of the 618th Air and Space Operations Center (Tanker Airlift Control Center). Although most warfighting functions were being accomplished, they were spread through multiple staffs, often with little integration.

While the 2011 restructuring was one of the most visible elements of an evolutionary process that enhanced the 18th Air Force's operational capability - it was far from the last. The following year the command went through one of its most significant restructuring efforts to date.

In March 2012, the 18th Air Force inactivated its two Expeditionary Mobility Task Forces: the 21st EMTF at Joint Base M-D-L and the 15th EMTF at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. These inactivations administratively aligned the task forces' subordinate units, the 615th Contingency Response Wing at Travis, the 621st CRW at Joint Base MDL, the 515th Air Mobility Operations Wing at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, and the 521st AMOW at Ramstein Air Base, Germany under the EC. The following June also saw the inactivation of the 615th CRW, with the alignment of its subordinate units under the 621st CRW.

While the changes reduced the administrative demands on the 18th Air Force Commander, they still left him with full operational control of AMC's forces. Lt. Gen. Mark Ramsay, then-18th Air Force Commander, noted that the changes represented a more effective and efficient way of carrying out the command's global air mobility mission "especially the planning, exercising, execution, and assessment of airlift, air refueling, and aeromedical evacuation operations in support of combatant commanders across the globe."

Since then, the value of the command's continual evolution has been validated by multiple crises and contingencies, each of which has in some way reflected the elements of "speed, safety, and success".

In the wake of Japan's 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the command successfully and quickly orchestrated efforts transporting hundreds of tons of humanitarian relief while assuring the safe return of thousands of military families back to the U.S. Simultaneously, within hours of the passing of a Security Council Resolution, AMC tanker units rapidly formed a total force "Calico wing" (so named for the variety of aircraft tail flashes from the different units that constituted it) to support the UN no-fly zone over Libya. All this occurred against the backdrop of the massive movement of personnel and equipment from Iraq.

Since that time, the command has continued to rapidly respond to crises across the globe whether delivering relief supplies to Americans stricken by Superstorm Sandy, moving troops and equipment in the face of provocations by North Korea and Syria, or supporting international efforts battling extremists in Mali. At the same time, the command has undertaken the massive effort of redeploying equipment and troops from Afghanistan in just a few years.

In an October letter to the command's Airmen, current commander Lt. Gen. Darren McDew identified the source of the command's legacy of speed, safety, and success: its Airmen.

"A decade after our rebirth, our 18th Air Force is not merely the largest Numbered Air Force ... but also the most experienced, battle-tested Airmen our country has ever known," he wrote. "As Mobility Airmen, you don't carry out your challenging missions for praise or acclaim ... you do it because it is who you are. Your efforts have saved the lives of innocents, defended friends and allies, and safeguarded the freedom and security of our own Nation."