The New 18th Air Force: Humble beginnings, Global Mission

  • Published
  • By Maj. Michael Meridith
  • 18th Air Force Public Affairs

 Author's Note: This story is the second in a series of three detailing the history of the 18th Air Force.



After an absence of more than four decades, the 18th Air Force was reborn on Oct. 1, 2003, the first major revision to Air Mobility Command's organizational structure in more than a decade. 


While the Air Force of the 21st century was far different from that of 1958, when the command was inactivated after only seven years of existence, its emblem, with three parachutes representing speed, safety, and success, remained a link to a distinguished past.


Born from the consolidation of AMC's 15th and 21st Air Forces  under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Bill Essex, AMC'S Director of Plans and Programs, the command had a modest start. By the time Lt. Gen. William Welser III was finally confirmed as commander a mere two months after activation, the 18th Air Force headquarters staff numbered 30 (of which more than half were the legal office).

At the beginning, every AMC wing and independent group reported to the 18th Air Force, including the newly-designated 15th and 21st Expeditionary Mobility Task Forces, AMC's lead agencies for conducting airlift, air refueling, aeromedical evacuation, and expeditionary combat support operations worldwide.  This meant that a single commander, the 18th Air Force commander, had tasking and execution authority for all air mobility missions. It became quickly apparent that in order for the command to effectively oversee the global air mobility enterprise it would have to grow and develop strong relationships with key organizations across the Air Force and Department of Defense.


From the start, the command's leadership ensured strong lines of communication with sister Numbered Air Forces, the AMC staff, Air Reserve Component leadership, U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), and counterparts in the other military services. Strong communication was also a priority within the command.


"We visited every unit in the NAF to ensure all members of the command family understood their role in our mission success. This included integration of Air Reserve Component advisors and visits to Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard units to ensure they were fully integrated into war-fighting team. Visiting other service units also paid huge dividends in the joint fight," said Welser.


Building on a foundation of strong internal and external communication, 18th Air Force leaders next focused on evolving the command's role to present air mobility forces and expertise to combatant commands, particularly USTRANSCOM.


In November 2005, Maj. Gen. James A. Hawkins, a former 18th Air Force vice commander, took the reins of the 18th Air Force. Under his leadership, and that of his successor, Maj. Gen. Winfield W. Scott III, who took command in June 2008, the command continued to evolve to meet complex missions at home and abroad.


One of the most demanding of those missions came when Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast in August 2005, eventually causing more than 1,800 deaths and nearly $80 billion in damage over an area of approximately 90,000 square miles. From the initial response through recovery, 18th Air Force Airmen were part of a massive total force team that flew more than 300 missions that moved nearly 1,800 sick and injured hurricane victims to safety and airlifted more than 4,000 tons of relief supplies to the stricken area. 


A mere two years afterward, the command also flexed its muscle overseas with the deployment of approximately 1,500 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles to Iraq in only four months.


The increasingly complex nature of the command's mission, evidenced by global demands such as these argued for a second "rebirth" of the command, which was soon to come.