A Moment in Air Force History

U.S. Air Forces in Europe’s Special Order GD-07 inactivated 23 units and activated 26 units on Jan. 15, 2004. This also activated the 435th Air Base Wing to assume host wing and KMC responsibility. Certainly old news, but judging from inquiries received, the historical significance of the order has not been widely understood.

The confusion is understandable. Today members of 435th ABW units are performing the same missions they performed last year as members of 86th AW. The outward change may have amounted to little more than repainting of building signs. But from an Air Force history perspective, the change was much more profound. The history of each inactivated 86th AW unit stopped as the history of each activated 435th ABW unit started. In other words, no historical connection exists between these units. It is a difficult concept to understand, and seems to defy logic, how a unit designation could be so important.

Unit designations are what the Air Force uses to keep track of its history. Designations provide historical continuity of a highly mobile and ever changing force. Without them, Air Force history would consist of a collection of disconnected accomplishments spread across world-wide locations. (Accomplishments likely forgotten with each base closure or mission completion. )For example, who would remember the formation of the Skyblazer aerial demonstration team in 1949 or the first arrival of the F-15 Eagles to Germany in 1977? The 36th Air Base Wing, Anderson Air Force Base, Guam is certainly proud of having these accomplishments as part of their wing’s heritage — even though they now reside on the other side of the globe.

On Ramstein, 86th and 435th are not just numbers; they represent a totally separate and distinct wing heritage. The 435th led the operations in Rhein-Main Air Base from the mid-1970s through its 1995 inactivation, earning nine Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards including one for support of Operation Provide Comfort. The 86 AW has a long and proud history of fighter, reconnaissance and airlift missions. Since 1985 they have earned 12 Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards, including one specifically for support of Operation Allied Force. These wing accomplishments reflect the proud legacy of those who came before us.

Over time, the 2004 wing transition will appear seamless. Future researchers will look back on Ramstein Air Base and see how the mighty 435th of Rhein- Main fame stood-up, took over host wing responsibilities and did a spectacular job. Those here now can appreciate how this came to pass. Our accomplishments today will become the future legacy we leave behind to the Air Force, to our wing, to our unit as tomorrow’s Air Force history.