From Cold War to Desert Storm: Ramstein and the 86th Tactical Fighter Wing

by Dr. Silvano Wueschner
86th Airlift Wing Historian

In 1989, the world watched with fascination as one country after another in Eastern Europe began to throw off the shackles of communism. On Nov. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall started to come down amid cheers and spontaneous celebrations.

Indeed, only two years before I participated in a seminar at Truman State University on Eastern Europe, I asked one of the presenters, a professor from MIT, what the chances were that the wall would come down anytime soon? His answer was that it would not be likely to happen in our lifetime. Yet, two years later a contingent from Ramstein Air Base was in Berlin to revel in the historic moment as East Berliners flooded into the west.

Members of the 86th Tactical Fighter Wing brought back pieces of the wall, including large slabs of concrete that were placed in an area between U.S. Air Forces in Europe headquarters and the Officers’ Club. There was a good deal of optimism about the future in Nov. 1989. At the beginning of 1990, there was a feeling that the Cold War was in its waning days and questions about the future of U.S. Forces in Europe began to arise. The exuberance displayed in those halcyon days of the winter of ’89 was soon overshadowed by events in the Middle East.
On Aug. 2, 1990, Iraq launched an invasion of Kuwait. The following day the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 660 (1990) which condemned the invasion and demanded that Iraq withdraw its forces immediately and
unconditionally from Kuwait.

The UN passed 12 resolutions in all which urged Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. In the meantime, a 30-nation force led by the United States arrived in Saudi Arabia to defend it and its oil installations from a possible attack by Iraq. The operation dubbed Desert Shield began on Aug. 7, 1990. Ramstein became an intermediate support base for American forces deployed to the Persian Gulf. On Aug. 10, 1990, Ramstein began to receive Military Airlift Command stage crews as the base became an overflow airfield for Rhein-Main AB supporting strategic airlift traffic to the Persian Gulf. In addition to serving as a central overflow hub for airlift traffic flying between the U.S. and the Arabian Peninsula, Ramstein also established an intermediate engine repair facility for deployed F-16s enforcing the no-fly zone over Iraq. The base also became a huge collection and distribution center for gulf-bound munitions, and on Jan. 15, 1991, Ramstein’s aeromedical staging facility activated a 150-bed hospital and blood transshipment center in Hangar 1.
The hospital provided triage to its first patients from the Persian Gulf that same day. Additionally, personnel from virtually every squadron subordinate to the 316th Air Division augmented Air Force and Army units deployed to the gulf. Operation Desert Shield ended on Jan. 17, 1991, when the military offensive (Operation Desert Storm) against Iraqi forces in Kuwait began. Following the conclusion of the war, 86th TFW aircraft flew combat air patrol and armed reconnaissance missions over northern Iraq in support of Operation Provide Comfort.

From April 6, 1991, when the operation began, until Sept. 1993 when its commitment ended, the wing flew nearly 5,000 sorties over Iraq. For its participation in Provide Comfort, the 86th TFW received credit in a Joint Meritorious Unit Award.