USAFE Stands Up D-3 (6 July, 1987) Part 1 **


6 July, 1987 was a day the US Air Force had spent years preparing for. At least one Rapid Reactor exercise was held annually to simulate the swift movement of stateside squadrons to their designated wartime airbases in Western Europe. Data from the exercises was analyzed, contingency plans updated, and training revised to help squadrons better meet the strict timetable of an emergency, no-notice move to Europe.

Now the time had come to reinforce USAFE (United States Air Forces Europe) for real. Following President Reagan’s speech on the night of 5 July, orders were going out to US airbase commanders across Western Europe to begin preparing their respective bases for action. Within 24 hours a stream of tactical fighters was going to start pouring across the Atlantic from bases in the continental US to Europe. Simultaneously, two other resource-intensive events were getting underway that would directly affect air base operations as well in the coming days.

One was  REFORGER. Transport aircraft carrying men and supplies to Europe were going to be headed to Europe as well. In some cases, these large aircraft would be landing at the same bases earmarked to receive large numbers of tactical 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 delivering troops and equipment to Europe were to be turned around quickly and returned to the US with dependents on board. 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 to take 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. As a result, they would be among the first dependents put on westward flights.

The evacuation officially began on 6 July, moving smoothly at first. However, within 12 hours there were major problems developing. Ironically, these issues would have nothing to do with the airbases, or the availability or aircraft. It was  the traffic jams on the autobahns that inevitably disrupted the evacuation process. This will be discussed in greater detail in later entries.

The first tactical aircraft to arrive in Europe were F-15C Eagles of 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 numbers, and types of USAF combat aircraft arriving in Europe stepped up dramatically.

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