18th Air Force: A Legacy of Excellence

  • Published
  • By Maj. Michael Meridith
  • 18th Air Force
Although a divide of more than six decades separates them from the founders of their command, today's 18th Air Force Airmen continue to embody the same motto: "expedite!"
Signifying a commitment to excellence in the successful and rapid completion of the command's worldwide air mobility mission, the motto of the Air Force's largest, and AMC's only Numbered Air Force stands as an expression of a distinguished history.

The Early Days
Organized on March 28, 1951, at Donaldson AFB in Greenville, S.C., as Tactical Air Command's (TAC) airlift arm, the mission of the newly-formed 18th Air Force was to provide the Air Force with troop carrier crews. Initially composed of nine Air Force Reserve C-119 "Flying Boxcar" troop carrier wings (and later two C-124 "Globemaster II" wings), the newly-formed command immediately began providing crews for the Korean War.

During its first six years, 18th Air Force attained a global combat airlift capability unprecedented in the history of military aviation. In 1954, the command airdropped supplies to French troops during the siege of Dien Bien Phu, Indochina. Later, they
airlifted French soldiers to medical care in Japan.

The following year, 18th Air Force began supporting the Distant Early Warning line and bases of the Alaskan and Northeast Air Commands. In 1956, the command extended its support to the other side of the globe, supporting the first South Pole parachute jump and air dropping a complete international science base, a precursor to the Operation Deep Freeze missions that have been accomplished every year since.

A Reputation for Excellence
In addition to earning a reputation for carrying out challenging missions across the globe, the command's Airmen were also recognized for their innovation and were instrumental in developing techniques and equipment supporting more efficient airdrop operations, the Air Force "Pathfinder" combat controller capability (which established drop zone experts), and assault landing procedures for C-123 and C-130 aircraft.

"We've seen a lot of changes in Air Mobility," said Col. Earl B. Young, the 18th Air Force's first commander, during a 2011 meeting of 18th Air Force leaders. "But I can tell you having lived through all of those changes that the one thing that has never changed has been our leaders and our Airmen. We've always had the best."

Those Airmen not only contributed substantially to TAC's mission of providing the Air Force with a balance of strategic, air defense, and tactical forces, they also enhanced the striking power of the Army, particularly as the jet age turned TAC's attention to the rapid deployment of fighter/bomber units and airborne and light infantry units to distant  "hot spots". In fact, in support of this new focus, TAC added C-123 "Provider" and C-130 "Hercules" aircraft to rapidly deploy and resupply forces around the world.

Reorganization and Inactivation
Despite these changes, the command became part of a major reorganization of the Air Force during the second half of 1957. That reorganization resulted in a move of the 18th Air Force headquarters, a change in its mission, and finally its inactivation.

On July 1, 18th Air Force transferred two troop wings and two bases, Donaldson AFB, S.C. and Larson AFB, Wash., to the Military Air Transport Service. Barely two months later, in the wake of a TAC regional reorganization, the command transferred its remaining troop carrier wings to 9th Air Force and moved its headquarters to James Connaly AFB, Texas. The following month the scope of the 18th Air Force's mission increased dramatically as it assumed command responsibilities for TAC's day-to-day fighter, fighter-bomber, and aerial tanker operations in the western United States.

18th Air Force had hardly settled into its new home and mission when it was inactivated on Jan. 1, 1958, with its personnel and equipment transferred in place to the newly-activated 12th Air Force.

The Legacy Lives On
Nearly 60 years later and almost ten years after its 2003 reactivation, the command continues to earn praise for excellence in global air mobility operations. From humanitarian response in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and the Haiti and Japan earthquakes, to support for Coalition and Allied efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, the command's Airmen have often been the first to respond on behalf of the Nation.

Echoing Col. Young's words, Lt. Gen. Darren W. McDew, the 18th Air Force's newest commander, noted the secret to the command's success starts and end with its Airmen: "The great pioneers of our Air Force were exceptional men and women dedicated to making things better. The Airmen of today's 18th Air Force are bold, innovative leaders who continue to give life to a legacy of excellence and to our motto. Expedite!"