6 July, 1987 was a day the US Air Force had prepared long and hard for. Every year, at least one Rapid Reactor exercise was held to simulate the swift movement of stateside squadrons to their potential wartime airbases in Western Europe. After years of updating contingency plans, and training, the time had come to reinforce USAFE for real. Following the president’s speech on the night of 5 July, US airbase commanders across Western Europe were taking serious steps to prepare their respective bases for action. Within 24 hours a stream of tactical fighters would be streaming across the Atlantic from bases in the continental US to Europe. Simultaneously, two other resource-intensive events were happening which would directly affect air base operations.
One was the start of REFORGER and the reinforcement of Europe. Added to the flow of combat aircraft would be an endless stream of transport aircraft carrying men and supplies. In some cases, these large aircraft would be landing at the same bases earmarked to receive large numbers of fighters from the US. It was the responsibility of the base commanders to ensure that airlift and tactical air operations could coexist with minimal no hindrance to either.
The second event was the evacuation of US dependents from Western Europe, specifically West Germany for the moment. As per SACEUR’s Rapid Reinforcement Plan, the evacuation was to begin within 12 hours of REFORGER. The concept was simple in theory at least: Transport aircraft would deliver troops and equipment to Europe and then return to the US with dependents. To augment the departure of US families from the potential war zone, Military Airlift Command had contracted a number of airliners from regional European carriers. The first families to be evacuated, predictably, were those living on or in close proximity to the airbases where the airlift/evacuations were taking place. This had nothing to do with favoritism. It was quite simply a matter of common sense. These mothers and children were closest to where they needed to be. Hence, they would be some of the first dependents placed on westward flights. The evacuation officially began on 6 July, moving smoothly at first. But within 12 hours the first major problems would arise. Ironically, these issues would have nothing to do with the airbases, or the availability or aircraft. It would be the traffic jams on the autobahns that inevitably disrupted the evacuation process. This will be discussed in greater detail in later posts.
The first tactical aircraft to arrive in Europe were F-15C Eagles from the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing at Langley AFB in Virginia. As per the contingency plans, Bitburg Air Base was their wartime base. Bitburg was already home to the F-15s of the 36th TFW so integrating the new arrivals with the base’s maintenance, and aircraft support personnel and facilities went smoothly. The greatest issue for the base commander at Bitburg was where put all of the additional aircraft. Luckily for him, he had contingency plans available for dealing with this matter too, and the plans were executed almost flawlessly.
Over the next 12 hours similar scenes would be taking place at bases all over the Federal Republic of Germany and neighboring countries as the first contingents of combat aircraft from the US landed. F-4s from the 4th TFW at Seymour Johnson AFB went to Lahr AB, while F-15Cs from the 33rd TFW at Eglin AFB deployed to Soesterberg AB in the Netherlands. As the 6th turned into the 7th and beyond, the number and type of combat aircraft arriving increased dramatically.
Part II of this post will be published Friday and discuss a few of the unique challenges facing USAFE bases and wings as the transition from peace to war was sped up.