35 days in command…and six years of separation

  • Published
  • By Brig. Gen. Jon T. "Ty" Thomas
  • 86th Airlift Wing

It's great to be back at Ramstein!

As a prior Commander of the 86th Operations Group and Deputy Commander of the 603rd Air and Space Operations Center 2006-2009, I absolutely enjoyed the people, the mission and the privilege of living and working here at Ramstein Air Base.  Serving as commander of one of the U.S. Air Force's most dynamic operations groups, and helping lead one of our most critical command and control nodes, was incredibly rewarding - so much so that I thought a return trip would never be possible.  Yet now I find myself in one of the few roles that tops them all - commander of the entire 86th Airlift Wing - the Mighty 86th!

As I left my prior duty on the Joint Staff, en route to beautiful Germany, I knew much was likely to have changed at Ramstein and within the Kaiserslautern Military Community.  Yet I was also sure some things had remained the same.  I was excited to see both, and I'd like to share some initial observations informed by my first 35 days in command - and the six years of separation from when I was here last in command.

First, and you might find this funny, I see that things have moved on Ramstein Air Base.  On day one, I went to put some fuel in my Privately Owned Vehicle.  This became much more difficult than I expected, mostly because when I pulled up to where I thought the gas station would be, I found an empty lot of grass!  Yes, that is how I found out the base service station had moved.  Thank you to the Airman who provided directions to the new general on base!

Second, on a more serious note, Ramstein and the KMC has always been a busy place, and today is no different than when I left in 2009.  Then, we were deeply focused on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, supplying and sustaining our forward forces and recovering wounded warriors and transporting them to definitive care.  Today, while Iraq and Afghanistan remain important, and thankfully the flow of aeromedical evacuation patients has slowed, I detect a very significant shift in focus in two aspects.  Our own operations in support of EUCOM have a new sense of urgency, defined by the importance of reassuring allies and partners to counter new threats, and to develop their own capabilities to be resilient against coercion.  Even more evident to me is the significant expansion of our support for AFRICOM.  We are not just generating forces from Ramstein, we are conducting complex and demanding expeditionary operations in Africa every day.  The demands these missions place on our Airmen require a truly expeditionary mindset, which is what I see clearly in the Airmen I have met over 35 days in command.

Third, big changes are afoot here with respect to missions and infrastructure.  The clearing of the forested area outside the East Gate, so as to allow for the eventual construction of a new medical center to replace the existing facility in Landstuhl, was visually impressive.  In coordination with the Army and other partners here in the KMC, our task is now to successfully plan for the integration of this facility and associated personnel into how we operate here.  This is no small task; we must get it right.  In a similar vein, although without the obvious visual indication, is the realignment of KC-135 aircraft and associated personnel from RAF Mildenhall to Ramstein.  While this is not likely to actually occur until the end of the decade, the planning for such a complex transition starts now, and again, there is no substitute for getting things exactly right.
Two things stand out to me as not having changed - and for this I am thankful.  First, the sound and positive relationship with the local community continues, and the continuity is impressive.  Some of the mayors I've met recently are the same ones I knew six years ago!  I clearly sense a spirit of partnership and cooperation from our host nation leaders which is vitally important.  I ask for your help to sustain that spirit of partnership through your own actions every day.

Finally, the spirit of the Airmen - defined as all of us, military, government civilian, and local national employees - here at Ramstein is as strong as ever.  I've seen how you remain committed to success in our missions, to becoming better every day, and to caring for one another as we overcome the many challenges associated with our tasks.  How reassuring, and inspiring that is! 

I'll finish by simply saying how proud I am to be back here with all of you, leading the Mighty 86th and partnering across Team Ramstein.  We are forward, ready, now - and together, we can accomplish anything.