Not unlike previous years, 2015 was a dynamic time for the Mighty 86th and Team Ramstein. We experienced operations, exercises, challenges and shifts — some planned, some not — while generating and employing air mobility, enabling theater and strategic airpower, and operating key Air Force power projection platforms. We supported allies and friends, built partnership capacity, enhanced readiness, and deterred threats as they emerged and developed. In the modern world, Team Ramstein must remain responsive and engaged to be effective, and 2015 saw us doing just that.
Operationally, we supported combat operations in Syria while enabling the 39th Air Base Wing to grow Incirlik Air Base into a major operating location, simultaneously facilitating the stand-up of two other austere bases in southern Turkey in partnership with the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing and 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing. Our aircrew, maintainers and support personnel executed a steady flow of operations in support of U.S. Africa Command, flying C-130J missions that literally spanned the continent from east to west. Not to be forgotten, of course, was our continued support of combat operations in U.S. Central Command, to which we deployed nearly 20 percent of our wing for much of 2015.
We also supported many joint and combined exercises, from the unit level all the way up to force-on-force theater exercises. We supported an International Jump Week, hosted Swift Response, and trained with allies and the 435th AGOW during Saber Strike and Carpathian Summer. Each of these operations fostered interoperability and readiness, ensuring that we’re not only ready to take on emerging threats, but able to do so side-by-side with allies and joint partners, presenting a united force for NATO.
We exercise a lot, but this year we did it leaner and meaner. With renewed focus on innovation, the Mighty 86th streamlined efforts while enhancing our capabilities. This development even led to a monetary award: We clinched the first U.S. Air Forces in Europe Innovation Madness competition victory! We beat out all other wings to claim a $250,000 prize that we’ve put toward quality-of-life improvements on Ramstein. We won because, collectively, we saved the wing about $28 million and 115,000 man-hours through innovative efforts to better accomplish our mission.
As we refined our processes, we also effectively took on a new mission. As the 65th Air Base Wing at Lajes Field, Portugal, stood down on Aug. 14, the new 65th Air Base Group stood up and was assigned to the Mighty 86th! I am proud to say that we are now responsible for another of the United States’ and NATO’s most critical airfields and the Airmen who operate it. Like Ramstein, Chievres Air Base, Belgium, and Moron Air Base, Spain, Lajes is a strategic power projection platform that enables our forces to respond to crises and issues around the globe, especially in Europe and Africa. Notably, it was one of our very own from the 65th ABG, now Staff Sgt. Spencer Stone, who led the successful charge to overcome a terrorist attack on a train in northern France in late August. We are all proud of him!
Successes such as we’ve had in 2015 does not just happen. Everything we’ve done, everything we’ve built, refined and improved was because of our Airmen embracing our wing priorities to succeed in the mission, become better and care for one another. You succeeded in our mission this year through execution, readiness and partnerships. You became better, you refined our systems and processes, and we have an award to prove that you did it better than anyone else in U.S. Air Forces Europe. You cared for one another by embracing a culture of mutual respect and dignity.
I’m immensely proud of all we accomplished in 2015, and I know 2016 will be even bigger and better. The world is dynamic and the geo-political environment is ever-changing, but one constant is the excellence for which the Mighty 86th is known across this theater and in our Air Force. I am proud to serve with you, and I look forward to the coming year with energy and excitement for all that is to come!