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History of Rhein Main AB, Germany

Rhein-Main AB, Germany

(The majority of this article is from the Airman's magazine)

Its goodbye Rhein-Main, hello new and improved Ramstein and Spangdahlem

After almost five years and million, the Rhein-Main Transition Program will finish by its Dec. 31, 2005, deadline.

Five years from decision to completion. The magnitude of the effort is incredible, said John Thompson, the U.S. Air Forces in Europe manager for the ambitious American-German effort.

In a nutshell, the program calls for closing down Rhein-Main Air Base, transitioning its cargo and passenger service mission to Ramstein Air Base, and beefing up Spangdahlem Air Base as the overflow base for Ramstein.

For almost five decades, multitudes of young service members and their families, as well as pets, have touched down at Rhein-Main AB, also known as the Gateway to Europe where they began their first overseas tours.

In 1994, the bases C-130 Hercules mission moved to Ramstein where it filled the vacancy of the F-16 Fighting Falcon mission that moved to Aviano Air Base, Italy. The primary mission of Rhein-Main now is to provide airlift support for contingency operations, and to receive the continual arrival of troops heading for duty in Europe via commercial contract aircraft.

But circumstances evolved that allowed a unique window of opportunity for drawing down smartly,

Mr. Thompson explained. The Frankfurt International Airport has long sought to expand its operations area, and Rhein-Main is collocated with the civilian airport.

Beginning of the end

In December 1993, base officials announced plans to draw down to half the size and reduce the active duty force by more than two-thirds. Six years later, U.S. Air Force and German authorities signed an agreement to close and return the base to Germany by December 2005.

In doing so, Mr. Thompson said, the transition will centralize operations at Ramstein and provide NATO with an airlift hub for its northern region.

It fits right in with the aerospace expeditionary force concept and allows us to move people quickly, he said.

Financially, the transaction will alleviate spending approximately million annually to keep Rhein-Main operational. Once the transition is complete, the Air Force is expected to pump almost million annually into the Ramstein and Spangdahlem area economies.

Deployed airmen in particular will appreciate the transition. Gone will be the days of landing at Rhein-Main heavily laden with gear, only to realize they must find transportation to Ramstein to further await a C-130 hop downrange.

Not only will new arrivals land at Ramstein, but a centralized ring of accommodations will await them only a short walk away. In conjunction with the transition program, the Kaiserslautern Military Community is shifting its passenger service terminal, billeting, restaurants, theaters and a new base exchange to one central location.

But at the other end of the spectrum is Paul Molnar. As facilities and capabilities emerge and expand at Ramstein and Spangdahlem, he is tasked with closing shop at Rhein-Main. Its both daunting and emotional.

Its almost like closing down my alma mater, said Mr. Molnar, who has lived in the Rhein-Main community for 34 years as both an active duty airman and a civilian employee.

Mr. Molnar hates to see his job and a way of life go away, but said he both understands and agrees with the change. His focus now is to slowly and surely transition from a contingency hub where record-setting numbers of flights, fuel and passengers are being sent to support the war on terrorism, to final closure while at the same time taking care of about 1,900 people assigned and deployed to Rhein-Main. As for himself, he has plans to remain on the job until working from a cardboard box and a lettuce crate.

Spinning up at Spangdahlem
Meanwhile, Udo Stuermer is leading the charge at Spangdahlem to beef up the runway and expand support facilities to accommodate heavies such as the C-5 Galaxy. The engineering flight commander has a history in big projects. He helped oversee the drawdown of nearby Bitburg Air Base and was in the midst of building up Spangdahlem facilities as part of the Eifel 2010 project when the Rhein-Main Transition Project fell into his lap.

Sometimes I feel like chaos is managing us, and sometimes I feel like we have control of the chaos, he joked while sitting inside an empty bus after giving a windshield tour update to local German media on construction progress.

Spangdahlem is home to the 52nd Fighter Wing that flies the A-10 Warthog and the F-16. Its new mission will be as an overflow host for aircraft moving into or through the European region. But even though its role will only be that of understudy, it must still be prepared for center stage at a moment notice. Getting there equates to 23 construction projects totaling approximately million. As with all transition expenditures, the vast majority is paid by the German government and the German airport authority.

Extra land was purchased to allow the base to expand. The parallel taxiway suitable for lighter fighter aircraft must be lengthened and hardened with concrete, and a parking ramp large enough to accommodate C-5 Galaxies or C-17 Globemaster IIIs is required.

The local community supports the program. Mr. Stuermer said mayors from local villages visited the Pentagon to express their continued support for the Air Force in the Eifel region where Spangdahlem is located. But the economicbacklash of Bitburgs closure in 1994 still stings, he said.

Approximately million annually has made its way into the Eifel community since expansion began in earnest in 1997, Mr. Stuermer said. About 95 percent of all contracts have been awarded to local companies, and there is still plenty of work to go around. As of July 2003, the transition project was less than 20 percent complete at Spangdahlem.

The Eifel 2010 project is easy compared with the Rhein-Main project that Mr. Stuermer describes as very tough because of its non-negotiable deadline of December 2005. Tough, but he sees no problem with Spangdahlem meeting its commitment.

Ramping up at Ramstein
That same feeling of confidence is shared at Ramstein by Maj. Lisa Webster, the 86th Airlift Wing liaison officer for the transition program. As a C-130 pilot, she looks forward to increased operational capability when the bases current runway and taxiway expand into dual runways.

Mr. Thompson described the ability to keep operations going despite the closure of a single runway as a tremendous capability. In decades past, the closure of an Air Force runway in Europe could be alleviated by sharing space at another base. Because of the military drawdown in the early 1990s, however, that has increasingly become less of an option.

Achieving that capability not only depends on the coordinated working relationship between the command and the 86th, but also the established Air Force, NATO and host nation partnership throughout this endeavor. Major Webster shares the latest transfer program information and serves as a conduit for coordination between the affected airlift wing organizations and the command during weekly meetings. She said these weekly meetings have paid dividends because timing is critical. One project often depends upon the completion of another, and the ripple effect could cause a wave of delays.

Coordination with overall planners is simple for her since she shares a sliver of an office alongside Mr. Thompson and other U.S. Air Forces in Europe planners. The information exchange in the two-story  office is fast, furious, widely varied and sometimes challenging.

For example, a German aviation law became an extraordinary challenge when it was apparent the air traffic would increase at Ramstein, and operations would change with the construction of a major wide-body parking ramp at Spangdahlem. This drove new air traffic act permits for both bases unprecedented for U.S. forces in Germany, said Udo Bollmann, the command host nation legal advisor. This permit was issued by the German government and determines important operational limits that must be observed in peacetime operations.

An air traffic act permit is required for developing an airfield or changing operations at an existing site. The permit wasnt an issue when U.S. air bases sprung up during the height of the Cold War, Mr. Bollmann said, but with the fall of the Berlin Wall its enforcement was put into the 1998 Status of Forces Agreement between Germany and the United States.

Nobody knew how to do it, he said of the stringent permit requirements that included extensive examination of local health and environmental concerns. However, with the help of a German lawyer, the temporary setback was resolved.

Land became a second major issue: acquiring new land and preserving flora and fauna. Resistance came not only from individual landowners, but also from the association of land owners whose property was needed for air field expansion, said Willi Ningelgen, the commands senior conservation engineer. However, agreements eventually were reached with about 200 citizens from four villages who sold the German government the land for base expansion. In other instances, land swaps were negotiated.

As for taking care of nature, replacing trees with more trees has been the environmental answer as compensation for cutting trees or other disturbances to almost 50 acres of affected wetlands. For example, if 50 trees are cut down, they must be replaced by planting 75 to allow for young transplants that dont survive.

Keeping a close eye on issues such as trees, however, doesnt prevent planners from focusing on the big picture. It cant, Mr. Thompson said, because one of the transitions major challenges is to keep the program on track and on schedule. The key to that, he said, is getting things done as quickly as you can.

Keeping on track has been accomplished through the hard work and cooperation of host nation officials and a lot of good Air Force people working this [issue], Mr. Thompson said. Thats all the more impressive, he noted, because they had no template for the project and have adapted and learned along the way. However, he said the huge build-up at Aviano during the past several years, and the rapid construction of cruise missile sites during the mid-1980s in Europe, which he played a role in developing, served as useful historical references.

You cant imagine the broad nature of problems we deal with, he said. But when asked about meeting the 2005 deadline, he acknowledged the challenge and said the team was looking go

· Location: 7 miles Sw of Frankfurt

· Previous Names:

Frankfurt/Rhein-Main Rhein-Main Airfield Rhein-Main AB

· Date of Establishment: German - 1936, USAAF - 9 May 45

· Date Construction Began: 1934, 1945

· Date of Beneficial Occupancy: 8 Apr 45

· Base Operating Units:
8 Apr 1945 362 Fighter Group & 379 Fighter Group
14 Apr 1945 377/378 Fighter Squadrons
12 Apr 1945 425 Night Fighter Squadron
15 Apr 1945 368 Fighter Group
26 Apr 1945 HQ 826 Engineering Aviation Bn
20 Nov 1945 466 Air Service Group
20 Nov 1947 Redesignated HQ & Base Service 61 Air Base Gp
1 Jul 1948 61 Air Base Group
2 Jun 1951 60 Air Base Group
18 Apr 1955 7310 Air Base Group
8 Mar 1958 Redesignated 7310 Support Group
15 May 1960 Redesignated 7310 Air Base Wing
26 Sep 1964 Redesignated 7310 Air Base Group
1 Nov 1968 Redesignated 7310 TAW
1 Jan 1970 322 Combat Support Group
1 Jul 1975 435 Combat Support Group
1 Apr 1992 Redesignated 435 Support Group
· Major Units Assigned
8 Apr 45 - 30 Apr 45 362 Fighter Gr P-47
12 Apr 45 - 2 May 45 425 N Ftr Sq P-61
15 Apr 45 - 13 May 45 368 Ftr Gp P-47
8 Feb 47 - 21 Jul 50 61 Troop Carrier Gp C-54
21 Aug 50 - 7329 Labor Svc Unit (Engineer Coast)
21 Aug 50 - 7331 Labor Svc Unit (Guard)
21 Aug 50 - 7333 Labor Unit (Admin Liaison)
1 Jan 51 - 22 Sep 55 60 Air Base Gp C-54, C-82, C-119
2 Aug 51 - 14 Jul 52 433 Troop Carrier Gp C-119
14 Jul 52 - 21 Mar 53 317 Troop Carrier Gp C-119
?49? - 1 Jul 64 7167 Special Air Mission Sq C-54M, C-47
Redesignated 1767 Air Transport Sq
54- 7430 Medical Air Evac Gp C-54M
52 - HQ 7 Engineer Aviation Brigade
3 Apr 53 - 1 Nov 73 7050 Air Intelligence Svc Wing Redesignated 7113 Spec Activities Gp
15 Sep 58 - 1 Jul 93 2 Aeromed Evac Gp Redesignated 2 Aeromed Evac Sq
8 Jan 66 - 1 Jul 93 55 Mil Airlift Sq C-9 Redesignated 55 Aeromed Airlift Sq
1 Jul 69 - 1 Apr 93 435 TAC Airlift Wing C-130
1 Jul 69 - 1 Oct 94 37 Airlift Sq C-130
1 Apr 95 469 ABG
1 Nov 96 - 10 Mar 97 93 Air Expeditionary Gp (P) E-8
Disposition: Active stand-by USAFE base. Negotiations underway for full return to German government. USAFE/HO 2 Aug 99


In 1909 Rhein-Main was first used as a landing ground for dirigibles and by 1936 was a commercial airport with the northern side for aircraft and the southern part near Zeppelinheim for air ships. The Graf Zeppelin and Hindenburg were based here until the Hindenburg disaster in New Jersey in 1937 when they were dismantled. On 6 May 1940, the base was converted for military use. Rhein-Main provided the staging area for Luftwaffe activities on the western front as the German Army massed for the drive across France. After the initial action, the Luftwaffe moved to bases in France and Rhein-Main was only used sporadically as a fighter base and experimental station. In late 1944, with the liberation of France and the Germans falling back, the base was used by again by Luftwaffe fighters and attracted the attention of the Allies who conducted daily bombing raids on the field making it nearly unusable. Elements of the 10 Infantry Rgt secured the airport on Mar 27, 1945.

Rhein-Main Airport was first occupied by the 362 Ftr Gp and 379 Ftr Sq on 8 Apr 45 followed shortly by the 377/378 Ftr Sqs on 14 Apr 45. The 425 Night Ftr Sq arrived on 12 Apr 45 and the 368 Ftr Gp on 15 Apr 45. The 826 Engineering Bn moved in on Apr 26, 1945 and began to clean up and rebuild. They built new runways and extended and widened the existing runway, constructed aprons and hardstands as well as taxiways leading to the new terminal, finished in 1946. Traffic increased after the closure of the Orly Field military passenger terminal in Oct 46 and Rhein-Main hosted the Eastern Air Transport Service in Jan 47.

Although envisioned as a bomber base, Rhein-Main became the largest military aerial port of entry into Europe from 1947 - 1959 becoming known as the "Gateway to Europe". Rhein-Main was the main western base for the round-the clock Berlin Airlift operations from Jun 48 to Sep 49. After the Berlin Airlift ended, there was a period of growth and renovations of many buildings on the base and the acquisition of family housing areas. In 1950, all military activities were concentrated on the southern side leaving the northern side for the civilian terminal and the ever-expanding commercial air traffic.

Units at Rhein-Main participated in many humanitarian operations helping out in floods and earthquakes throughout the area. Also, the base was host to Kinder lift for 5 years of a program to airlift children from the isolation of Berlin to a month of vacation at Frankfurt. Many American families at Rhein-Main sponsored a child in their homes.

During this period Frankfurt Airport quickly developed into Germany's air transport hub and traffic rose steeply requiring extensions and new buildings and more and more space. Rhein Main AB did not belong to Germany. US forces had commandeered the base at the end of World War II. In the late 1950s, the German government requested that the base be returned to its owners, the International Airport Frankfurt, with the understanding that the property would continue to be available to US forces under a special arrangement between the airport, the German government, and USAFE. USAFE accepted this proposal in November 1959 and returned title to the property. To provide for the continued use of Rhein Main AB, the German government leased the property from the airport and made it available to USAFE. The 1959 "Rights" agreement set very specific limitations to the USAF's use of Rhein-Main such as no fighter or bomber aircraft - only transports would use the base, only US forces supporting admin and transport operations would use the base and ammo storage would only be enough for units stationed at the base.

After this Rhein-Main AB became the main supply and support base for USAFE providing the air logistical support for all US forces in Europe. Facilities such as fuelling and logistical handling were shared by the military and airport. Maneuvers and military exercises with NATO sanction frequently found Rhein-Main functioning as a main buildup point because of its airlift capability and strategic locations. "Big Lift" in Oct 63 involved airlifting 14,500 men of the 2nd Armored Div from Ft Hood to Rhein-Main in less than 3 days and continued with "Reforger", the first one in 69 which was an annual exercise to test large-scale deployment. These cold-war exercises demonstrated the US's determination to defend Europe.

On 1Jul 75 the base transferred from USAFE to MAC and was charged with tactical airlift operations in Europe. In Jan 8l, the Iranian hostages arrived at Rhein Main and in Oct 83, the casualties from the bombing of the marine barracks in Lebanon were airlifted to Rhein-Main. On 26 Jun 85, the Berlin Airlift monument was dedicated. During Desert Shield/Storm Rhein Main was used as a stopover for over 240,000 troops deploying and was the primary aeromedical staging facility and the centralized regional repair and supply activity for all C-130s assigned to SW Asia. In the next years there were many humanitarian operations which involved Rhein-Main - "Provide Comfort" (Krudish refugee relief), "Provide Promise" ( humanitarian airlift into Sarajevo), "Restore Hope" (Somalia relief), "Provide Promise" (relief supplies into Bosnia).

In December 1993, USAFE and the German government agreed to consolidate theater airlift at Ramstein AB, allowing USAFE to transfer 131.9 hectares (about 326 acres) of land to the airport. In exchange, the Frankfort Airport Authority would contribute up to 100 million Deutsche Marks (DM) for 14 construction projects at Ramstein as payment-in- kind residual value for the sections of Rhein Main being returned. Under the agreement, USAFE retained full access rights to the base during contingencies, permitting a rapid spin-up. USAFE planned to retain only the flightline area, industrial facilities, contingency dorms, and housing.

Efforts to close parts of Rhein Main AB progressed quickly. In late June 1994, aircraft began transferring to Ramstein AB; the 37th Airlift Squadron officially moved there on 1 October. On 1 April 1995, the 435th Airlift Wing, host unit of Rhein Main AB since 1975, and its subordinate units inactivated in formal ceremonies that marked the transition of the base to a contingency base. HQ USAFE activated the 469th Air Base Squadron the same day to replace the wing.

The base population, which had been over 5,000 in 1993, was expected to be 991, but by the end of 1995, the number had increased again to 1,452. By March 1996, about 2,500 people either worked or lived on the base and contingency operations in support of the Dayton Peace Accords for Bosnia brought another 1,800 people to the base.

In recognition of the base's strategic importance, HQ USAFE redesignated the 469th Air Base Squadron as a group on 1 August 96. As a group, the commander, a colonel, had more authority in conducting day-to-day affairs as well as organizing for a wartime mission. The upgrade also placed the commander in a better position to deal with local German authorities and visiting US dignitaries.

Frankfurt Airport was in desperate need of more room and continually negotiated for greater access to Rhein-Main facilities. With the reduction in forces and several bases standing empty USAFE began to negotiate in 1998 for payment-in- kind construction projects at Ramstein and Spangdahlem in return for the complete hand-over of Rhein-Main AB to the Germans. On 27 Jul 99 a preliminary hand-over agreement was signed and will undergo a review process by both governments before it becomes final.

USAFE/HO 2 Aug 99

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