A farewell to Mighty 86th

by Brig. Gen. Jon T. Thomas 86th Airlift Wing commander

Photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Magbanua Brig. Gen. Jon T. Thomas (right) salutes Lt. Gen. Timothy M. Ray, 3rd Air Force commander, after being awarded the Legion of Merit medal in recognition of his service as the 86th Airlift Wing commander Aug. 17 on Ramstein. Thomas is slated to become the director, Strategic Plans, Requirements and Programs, Headquarters Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.
Photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Magbanua
Brig. Gen. Jon T. Thomas (right) salutes Lt. Gen. Timothy M. Ray, 3rd Air Force commander, after being awarded the Legion of Merit medal in recognition of his service as the 86th Airlift Wing commander Aug. 17 on Ramstein. Thomas is slated to become the director, Strategic Plans, Requirements and Programs, Headquarters Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.

When you take command of a unit or installation, you expect to personally grow; you expect the experience to broaden your perspective and offer opportunities to build your leadership skills. You do not always expect the units and missions to grow. Since I took command in June, 2015, the Kaiserslautern Military Community and Team Ramstein have grown and evolved immensely and I couldn’t be prouder of all we’ve accomplished together.

We welcomed Lajes Field and the 65th Air Base Group to the 86th Airlift Wing. We temporarily brought U.S. civilians from Incirlik Air Base into our community as they were ordered to depart due to serious force protection concerns. We added major new joint exercises such as SWIFT RESPONSE that demonstrate the resolve and capability of our forces to respond to aggression and reassure allies. We continue to grow as the Mighty 86th plans for the future absorption of the 100th Air Refueling Wing’s KC-135 Stratotankers and as the construction of the new medical center progresses just outside Ramstein’s east gate.

It has been a dynamic and transformative year for the Mighty 86th and Team Ramstein. Our success has come via teamwork, dedication and camaraderie.

My experience over the past 14 months reaffirms the absolutely critical role played by Ramstein Air Base and the AF installations of the KMC in U.S. and NATO security and defense policy. Some may know that I had previously served as the 86th Operations Group commander from 2007 to 2009; this was an incredibly important place then, and the intervening 7 years have simply added to the significance. Our missions here are of great consequence, and many rely upon our success to, in turn, enable them to achieve their own success.


We’ve sought to stay ahead of change by planning for the future and putting those plans into action. The combined effects of the KC-135 transfer to the 86th, the relocation of the medical center to Rhine Ordnance Barracks and a major host nation road infrastructure project at the A6/Einsiedlerhof interchange all coming to fruition in about the 2020 to 2022 timeframe drive an imperative to assess and analyze the impacts to our missions and community so that timely adjustments can be made in both. We’ve sought to revitalize our installation resilience in the event of conventional air attack a potential reality in the changed European security environment post-2014. We’ve sought to focus our valuable, but limited, resources on our highest priorities for processes and facilities related to mission execution and community support.

But it was at the tactical level that I really got to see what Team Ramstein is all about and who we really are as the Mighty 86th. Chief Master Sgt. Phil Easton and I, while he was the 86 AW command chief, spent a great deal of time with our Airmen. We donned bunker gear and learned how our firefighters train to respond to emergencies on our flightline, ensuring the safety of the installation. We went on patrol with the 86th Security Forces Squadron and 569th U.S. Forces Police Squadron, seeing how our vigilant defenders safeguard our installation, our Airmen and our communities. We turned wrenches with 86th Maintenance Group Airmen and got our boots dirty while helping them keep our birds up in the air. We flew with the pilots, loadmasters and aeromedical evacuation crews of the 86th Operations Group as they put our aircraft into action. We cleaned sewers and power-washed sidewalks with the 86th Civil Engineering Group, seeing what it took to keep our installation working and clean. We delivered furnishings management office furniture, conducted health inspections at our base restaurants and pitched mail at the Northside Post Office. It was awesome!

It was side by side with Team Ramstein Airmen that we saw how the mission gets done. We witnessed the hard work and dedication of Airmen of all types military, U.S. civilian and local national civilian. Together, we’ve succeeded in the mission, become better and taken care of one another. As I depart, all I ask is that you maintain and build upon the excellence you’ve displayed every day of my 14 months in command.

It’s been a pleasure to again be one of you working side by side 86th Airlift Wing Airmen who make success a daily reality in the KMC, across Europe and Africa, and beyond. Know that I will admire you from afar with pride and excitement. Keep up the teamwork and I wish you all the best for continued success!