What the heck is an AGOW?

  • Published
  • By Col. Joe McFall
  • 435th Air Ground Operations Wing commander
"What the heck is an AGOW?"

I have heard that question more than once during my seven months as the commander. In fact, when I found out I was getting this assignment, I asked the same question.

If you don't know what the AGOW is, don't feel bad. There are only two in the U.S. Air Force, and they haven't been around long. This year marks the fifth anniversary of the 435th AGOW here in Europe and the 93rd AGOW based at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. However, even the other AGOW looks nothing like ours. So, with that in mind, let's talk about the past, present and future of this unique organization.

AGOW stands for Air Ground Operations Wing. In 2009, when the 435th Air Base Wing transferred mission support operations to the host 86th Airlift Wing, the 435th AGOW was formed. This new organization brought together a diverse set of groups and squadrons, many of which directly reported to U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa and the 3rd AF. The reasoning behind the origins of the wing is less than clear. Our official history states: "We received a unique mix of battlefield Airmen from different specialties: tactical air control parties and air liaison officers, airborne-qualified airfield defenders, civil engineering construction crews, combat and theater communications specialists, and battlefield weathermen."

Our current historian takes a bit of a different slant by observing that the original concept behind an AGOW was to focus on the close-air support mission. Our sister wing at Moody is structured in this manner: "provid(ing) ... ground combat forces capable of integrating air and space power into the ground scheme of maneuver."

While we in the 435th also gained USAFE-AFAFRICA's only operational TACPs and battlefield weathermen, this was just the tip of the iceberg. Realistically, I think it is fair to say the wing brought together all of the operational missions in the command that didn't already fit under a traditional wing structure.

Presently, our organization consists of an Air & Space Communications Group, an Air Support Operations Group, and a Contingency Response Group, headquartered at Ramstein, with geographically separated units at seven locations across Germany and Italy. Our communications professionals provide expeditionary communications; theater command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance system administration; engineering and installation of communications systems; and theater airfield maintenance.

Our ASOG warriors integrate air, space and weather capabilities into the U.S. Army Europe scheme of maneuver, as well as provide all operational weather support from Lajes, Portugal, to the Middle East and the North Pole to South Africa. Our CRG Airmen provide expeditionary airfield operations; capstone pre-deployment training to defenders; civil engineers and force supporters; theater construction and mobile aircraft arresting system support; and the command's only professional air advisers branch.

Like me, you are probably saying to yourself, "That is a lot of diverse stuff," and you are right. However, our Airmen make it look easy. In the last six months, across 36 countries, four combatant commands and numerous named operations and exercises, they have delivered each and every time. We have cool toys and cool missions, but it is our cool Airmen who get the job done and will keep getting it done in the future.

Hmmm. The future. What's in store for the AGOW? Certainly, diverse missions, diverse locations and diverse customers fill our crystal ball. However, we also see one common theme that unifies this wing -- the airfield.

A couple of months ago, when the commander of USAFE-AFAFRICA visited the AGOW, he made a comment that the airfield is a weapons system. That statement resonates with us as different pieces and parts of this wing have unique capabilities to employ the "airfield" at a time and place of the warfighter's choosing. Airfield systems and C2 -- airfield operations, sustainment, construction and repair, airfield force and resource protection -- direct airpower from the airfield. It's all here in one wing -- the ability to deploy an "airfield on demand."

So, there you go. In 500 to 700 words, you got the past, present and future of the 435th AGOW. I close by saying, "Happy birthday, AGOW!" As the wing's motto states, you have been, are and will be "First to the Fight, Lethal and Light," ensuring this command stays "Forward, Ready, Now!"