USAFE Stands Up D-3 (6 July, 1987) Part 2 **


Although REFORGER was the primary focus of the initial US reinforcement of Western Europe, air power was a major consideration too. The trickle of warplanes leaving the United States for Europe on 6 July would shortly transform into an almost constant stream as more active duty and eventually Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve squadrons tagged for Europe came online. As it stood, however, combatant command, and wing commanders in the US were not the only ones grappling with deployment and redeployment issues. Many of their USAFE counterparts were contending with similar problems.

The 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing based at RAF Alconbury was in the midst of changing aircraft types, and missions when Romanov’s coup was launched. The wing was transitioning from RF-4C Phantoms and their reconnaissance mission to A-10A Thunderbolt IIs and was scheduled to be redesignated as the 10th Tactical Fighter Wing in August of 1987. By June, the wing’s RF-4Cs  had all departed England, leaving a hole in USAFE and NATO’s reconnaissance capabilities on the eve of battle. Air Guard squadrons flying the RF-4C would eventually fill the void. However, the pinch was felt in the first week of hostilities when combat losses and limited availability caused a number of disruptions in the availability of tactical reconnaissance aircraft in theater.

The 81st TFWs problems were of a different sort. The 81st was a combat wing made up of four A-10 squadrons based at RAF Bentwaters-Woodbridge. It was regarded as a super-wing and its primary wartime role was to providing close air support to the NATO ground forces trying to stop a Soviet invasion of West Germany. Detachments of the wing’s aircraft regularly rotated to forward operating locations in Germany as a hedge against a surprise Soviet attack. Under current war plans, the 81st would fight from West Germany while Bentwaters absorbed and hosted newly arrived fighter wings from the US.

Fortunately for USAFE, the 81st was well versed in its wartime mission, and practiced it constantly. The forward operating locations at Sembach, Leipheim, Alhorn and Norvenich Air Bases were all fully stocked with ordnance, ammunition, fuel, and spare parts. Pilots and maintainers from the 81st had spent so much time at one or more of these sites in the past that they were intimately familiar with their forward surroundings. So, when the 81st’s commander, Colonel Bill Studer received his orders from 3rd Air Force, the wing was ready to go. Within two hours of the warning order being received, the first C-130 carrying maintainers and other wing staff was landing at Sembach.

CINC-USAFE was not entirely satisfied with the speed of the deployments and redeployments. General Bill Kirk, USAF, was a realist by nature, and a perfectionist by trade. The former F-4 driver understood the clock was running. War was coming and it was probably going to arrive before USAFE was fully reinforced and ready for action.  He pushed his wing and base commanders to prepare their units for war as fervently as he was pushing Tactical Air Command and the Pentagon to send him as many aircraft and pilots as fast as possible. “I have enough gas, ammo, and spare parts to make it through ten days of intensive air ops,” he explained to his counterpart at TAC (Tactical Air Command) General Bob Russ. “What I need are pilots and jets. Send me everything you can before the balloon goes up!”

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