Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward has been taking time from her whirlwind schedule lately to reflect on the achievements of her unit and her time at Ramstein. With the pending inactivation of the 17th Air Force (Air Forces Africa) April 20, the general has kept up the command’s obligations as the air component for U.S. Africa Command, visiting Ghana, Djibouti and Morocco in the last 30 days. She has also been taking time to reflect and recognize the contributions of AFAFRICA since its 2008 stand up. These recent senior leader engagements with partner nations are emblematic for this chapter of 17th history.
“Over the last four years, we have actively engaged our African partners by offering them our respect, trust and the desire to build and strengthen enduring friendships,” said Woodward, who is preparing to become the special assistant to the deputy chief of staff, operations, plans and requirements at the U.S. Air Force Headquarters at the Pentagon. “Because we have done this with a willingness to listen and learn, our efforts have been warmly received. I am very grateful to our friends in Africa for the mutual respect and learning experiences that our engagements have produced.”
AFAFRICA has conducted engagements with 36 nations on the African continent since the command stood up at Ramstein nearly four years ago. The air component enabled military cooperation and capacity building for partner nation air forces and related defense capabilities. This mission will continue under U.S. Air Forces in Europe after the transfer of authority, which will also take place in conjunction with the inactivation ceremony.
The mission is in good hands, the general said.
“Our African partners are fortunate because they are getting the best we have to offer leading the AFAFRICA mission into the future,” Woodward said, referring to the USAFE staff and its commander, Gen. Mark A. Welsh.
Woodward said AFAFRICA is handing over a mission that is increasingly crucial to national security interests. In addition to engagement, AFAFRICA has also been responsible for U.S. air operations on the continent, which have been integral to countering violent extremists.
“It is important that when we take time to reflect on our success, we must also consider our commitment going forward. The mission in Africa that we have diligently executed is as critical as anything we are doing to protect the security of our nation,” she said.
Citing the 2011 African air chiefs conference, Africa Partnership Flight and the AFAFRICA role in Operation Odyssey Dawn (command and control of the air campaign for enforcement of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 to protect the Libyan people), among other accomplishments, Woodard lauded her troops for being the authors of a unique chapter in regional and Air Force history.
“We brought together the largest African air chiefs conference, launched a very successful engagement vehicle on a grand scale in Africa Partnership Flight and saw the creation of the world’s newest democracy in our AOR in Libya,” she said. “We were caught up in the sweeping democratic change of the Arab Spring, we eradicated four to 12 senior operatives on the president’s leaders of terrorism priority list and we helped the Libyan people depose Mohmar Quaddafi and saved thousands of innocent lives.”
The accomplishments added to 17th Air Force’s proud history, which included its inception in Morocco in 1953 and was characterized by its contribution to protecting Western Europe during the Cold War.
The 17th has operated from Ramstein and Sembach air bases from 1959 until inactivation in 1996. The most recent incarnation of 17th AF was no less significant, including leading the air campaign over Libya. During 2011’s OOD and at its height of operations, AFAFRICA numbered more than 300 members.
Woodward said she was amazed at the way the Airmen of 17th AF worked as a team.
“When one person was asked to step up, they all did. When something needed to be done or someone needed a helping hand, everyone offered. And when one was successful, we all were. Everyone was ready to do their part. One person’s success was everyone’s success,” she said. “Seventeenth Air Force is one extraordinary team.”
She went on to say that 17th AF was embraced and enabled by AFRICOM Commander Gen. Carter Ham, USAFE, 3rd Air Force and internally by great leaders like 17th AF Command Chief Master Sgt. Mike Grimm.
“Our family members were an important part of that team, supporting their loved ones through all of the TDYs and long hours, making it possible for them to serve,” the general said.
The unit’s mascot and the focus of its winged horse heritage — the Pegasus — was especially relevant for 17th AF’s most recent log entries into the annals of Air Force history, Woodward said.
“It is because the incredible members of the 17th aimed so high, that 17th Air Force will forever fly, fight and win proudly in the pages of Air Force history,” she said. “These last four years and these achievements will forever exemplify our Airman’s creed to fly, fight and win in the history of our great Air Force.”