Commentary - No frills needed when establishing short-notice bare base
By Commentary by Col. Chad Manske, 100th Air Refueling Wing commander
/ Published April 20, 2011
RAF MILDENHALL, England -- It began March 18 with a call from Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander, that they needed a site survey to assess all aspects of operations, maintenance and mission support requirements at a Western European installation. The stand up of the 406th Air Expeditionary Wing, now officially the 313th AEW, to support an increase in personnel and tanker aircraft footprint would soon support operations over Libya for what would come to be called Operation Odyssey Dawn.
This operation was to support the international response to the unrest in Libya and enforcement of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. UNSCR 1973 authorizes "all necessary measures" to protect civilians in Libya under threat of attack by Gadhafi regime forces.
The U.S. Air Force has the incredible ability to deploy anytime and anywhere to any situation around the world. It is important to use this capability to aid other countries in times of desperate need. By the next morning, I was in country, bringing with me the 100th Air Refueling Wing historian who was to function as the 406th AEW historian; two seasoned tanker planners; and one intelligence officer.
When we arrived, there were already Coronet tanker aircraft, consisting of KC-135 Stratotankers and KC-10 Extenders, waiting to fly missions. These Coronet tankers had already been on station with the primary function of escorting fighters and bombers to and from the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, providing in-flight refueling support and eliminating multiple ground stops for fuel. Other than these aircraft, there were no personnel on the base affiliated with the 406th AEW -- we were charged to change that.
So we immediately set to work by meeting with local commanders and the existing Coronet planner to figure out what kind of support already existed at the location. This helped us determine what would be needed to support a larger-scale tanker operation. I drew on my experience and training to determine what might be needed, then set about putting it all on paper.
This became the roadmap for our headquarters to submit a request for forces and equipment and begin to source them. Among the considerations for this major movement, were obtaining facilities for more Airmen and at the time, an increase in KC-135s. Items such as food service, available bed spaces, dining facility augmentation and an ATM without cash came into discussion as requiring resolution with base authorities and the local base contracting authority.
With the timely precision that has become the norm of today's military, mission essential conflicts were resolved and by the first evening of Operation Odyssey Dawn, a four-ship formation of Stratotankers launched to support three B-2 Spirit bombers that accomplished the first delivery of U.S. ordinance in enforcement of UNSCR 1973. Our response time was a reflection of our quality training, teamwork and the professionalism of every team member.
I was filled with pride that night as I walked the flightline and climbed up into every cockpit and spoke to every tanker crew member, as well as every maintainer working the generation of these aircraft. I encouraged all of them with words of pride, thanks and "you are making history tonight."
Over the next two days, the 406th AEW had received more personnel and support equipment, to include KC-135s and KC-10s. Everything arrived in just 48 hours! I handed the reins of the wing over to Brig. Gen. Roy Uptegraff, commander of the 171st Air Refueling Wing from Pittsburgh, to carry on the mission as I returned to RAF Mildenhall.
This was an incredible effort and a great start to tanker operations supporting Operation Odyssey Dawn, and later Operation Unified Protector under the new 313th AEW designation. Of course a capability created this quickly was not without shortcomings, yet the mission was accomplished with enthusiasm and a flexibility that only the most powerful Air Force there is or ever was could muster. I was truly proud to once again see our great Airmen overcome obstacles to put this important operation into action.