17th Air Force stands down while African mission passes to USAFE

by Master Sgt. Jim Fisher
USAFE Public Affairs

The 17th Air Force stood down in an inactivation ceremony April 20 on Ramstein and the Air Forces Africa flag and mission were passed to U.S. Air Forces in Europe.
The numbered Air Force, which has also been known as Air Forces Africa, served as the air component for U.S. Africa Command. USAFE now takes up air component responsibilities for the African area of responsibility.

U.S. Africa Command Commander Gen. Carter F. Ham joined by USAFE Commander Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, oversaw the inactivation and transfer, both  lauding 17th AF Commander Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward and her organization.
“Air power is defined by speed, agility, decisive application of combat power, teamwork and audacity. I think those characteristics perfectly describe the 17th Air Force and they especially describe its commander. I have not known General Maggie Woodward all that long, but what a year it’s been,” Ham said, adding that the period which included Operation Odyssey Dawn and the Libyan conflict might be the defining epoch of this incarnation of 17th AF.

Taking note of the importance of 17th’s accomplishments, Welsh said that as the Air Force prepared to close the latest chapter of 17th history, it also was prepared to continue executing the Air Forces Africa mission. The responsibilities for planning, engagement and command and control of air operations conducted in support of AFRICOM now transfer to USAFE and 3rd Air Force.

“I think [General Ham] and I understand the significance of this transfer, and we understand the significance of the accomplishments of the men and women who have been serving in this air component,” Welsh said. 

“As we get ready to case the colors and close this chapter of 17th Air Force history I need to remind everyone of one very important thing: the mission is not going away. There are still operations to conduct and partnerships to strengthen.
The unstable regions of Africa are not suddenly stable. The commitments made to leaders in Africa must be honored. There is no indication that Africa will be any less busy in the future than it has been in the past.” Woodward said she was confident the mission, vital to U.S. national security, was in good hands.

“Even as we pause to reflect on what we have done, we reaffirm the commitment to what we must do because today we know more than ever that there remains a mission in Africa as critical as any other to the protection of America’s freedom and the security of our nation,” she said, adding that General Welsh overseeing the transition was especially advantageous.

“I know of no Airman with a deeper understanding of what airpower brings to the joint force. Our African partners are indeed fortunate to have you leading our new AFAFRICA command. Thanks to you and all the men and women of USAFE for their dedicated support.” Many of the Airmen formerly assigned to 17th Air Force have joined USAFE and 3rd AF and remain focused on the African mission. She also reserved the highest praise for the men and women of 17th AF, taking a final opportunity to say thank you to her troops.

“To the men and women of 17th Air Force, it seems like only yesterday that we started this journey,” Woodward said, noting the accomplishments over the last 22 months of her tenure.

“We locked arms, and stood together to form one extraordinary team. We may not have been the largest NAF in the Air Force but in my opinion we were certainly the best.”

In the almost four years since 17th was reactivated in October 2008 to coincide with the standup of AFRICOM as a unified command, the unit accomplished more than 200 engagement events with 36 partner nations in Africa.

They also took planning and command and control responsibility for air operations in Africa. While intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and contingency response activity was ongoing through its existence, 17th’s most momentous accomplishments may have come during the air campaign over Libya.

In Support of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 to protect Libyan civilians from Momar Qaddafi’s regime forces, General Woodward and 17th Air Force served as the Joint Forces Air Component Command, executing command and control via the 617th and 603rd Air and Space Operations Centers, over the coalition air campaign.

Seventeenth AF was given the Outstanding Unit Award for its role, and Woodward, the first woman to lead an air campaign, was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People for 2011.