Weaponizing Legacy: 435 AGOW visits Normandy

435th Air Ground Operations Wing leaders pose for a group photo at Normandy American Cemetery, France, Aug. 11. 435th AGOW leaders visited Normandy as part of a Battle Staff Ride during their commanders’ conference, and they visited the headstones of two 435th Troop Carrier Group Airmen who died during Operation Neptune in 1944.

Senior leaders from the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing participated in a battle staff ride to Normandy, France, as part of their commanders’ conference during Aug. 10-12.

U.S. Air Force Col. Bryan Callahan, 435 AGOW commander, directed the conference and staff ride to build camaraderie and cohesion amongst key leaders across the wing.

“The intent for this week was to integrate the wing and a new leadership team into our processes in systems,” said Callahan. “We wanted to form a strong team quickly!”

During the commanders’ conference, which initially took place on Ramstein Air Base, squadron and group commanders briefed each other on their respective missions and capabilities.

A staff member rubs sand into the engraved lettering of a headstone during a ceremony at Normandy American Cemetery, France, Aug. 11. The ceremony involves placing sand from Omaha Beach in the lettering of the headstones, followed by the placing of American and French flags. The process is meant to honor service members who gave their lies during Operation Neptune (D-Day) on June 6, 1944.

Callahan also introduced the wing’s new mission statement, vision, motto, and his new lines of effort to commanders, something AGOW Airmen can expect to see soon.

“We spent the summer reconstituting the wing’s response to crisis, but now we’re going to be getting after taking what we’ve started and making it better,” Callahan said, discussing what Airmen can expect to see at the 435th in the coming months. “In order to reflect how our wing operates in the real world, Airmen will see more integration across our routine exercises.”

After multiple discussions about the wing’s future, staff rode down to Normandy to learn more about their wing’s historical roots, specifically regarding the 435th Troop Carrier Group and its support of Operation Neptune on June 6, 1944.

U.S. Air Force Col. Bryan Callahan, 435th Air Ground Operations Wing commander, places a wing coin on a memorial for fallen 435th Troop Carrier Group personnel in Normandy, France, Aug. 11. The memorial marks the site of a 435th TCG glider crash that took place during Operation Neptune in 1944.

The 435th TCG with its four Troop Carrier Squadrons, 75th, 76th, 77th, and 78th, flew two missions on D-Day in direct support of the 101st Airborne Division (dropping paratroop infantry) and the 82d Airborne Division (landing glider artillery).

Callahan stressed the significance of including the staff ride as part of the conference.

“I wanted my commanders to know where they came from, what their heritage is, and to use that heritage to inform their idea of what this wing is today.”

Before departing, participants received formal education on the sites they’d be visiting and the history of the operation. Doctor Jeffrey McGovern, 12th Air Force historian, led the instruction and the staff ride across the region. McGovern previously served as the 435th AGOW historian before moving to 12th AF at Davis Monthan AFB, Arizona.

Members of the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing walk on Omaha Beach during a Battle Staff Ride in Normandy, France, Aug. 11. BSR participants visited multiple locations and historic sites where aspects of Operation Neptune took place in 1944.

During the staff ride, participants visited multiple locations including Omaha and Utah beach, Normandy American Cemetery, Pointe du Hoc, overgrown airfields, and a crash site where the 435th TCG lost five personnel.

After visiting Omaha beach, participants visited the graves of two 435th TCG Airmen at Normandy American Cemetery and held a short ceremony honoring their sacrifice. The ceremony involved placing sand from Omaha beach into the engraved lettering on the headstones, followed by placing of the American and French flags. Maj. Lane Campbell, AGOW wing chaplain, provided a short message as well.

While being able to visit these historic locations in person was valued by everyone, Callahan said it was watching his commanders build relationships that left the biggest impression upon him.

“Watching our leaders discover each other was the most powerful part of this trip. Seeing them learn this wing’s legacy and how they are part of that together was amazing. Now we’re looking ahead to see how we can weaponize that legacy and integrate with each other more in the future.”

To learn more about the 435th AGOW, visit the RAB website at https://www.ramstein.af.mil/Units/435-AGOW/.