Airmen from 17th Air Force at Ramstein Air Base in Germany received initial operational capability October 1, 2008 and are already supporting missions for U.S. Africa Command.
In the first 30 days since declaring initial operational capability, aerial missions on the continent have coincided with continuing administration and logistical work in building the new unit, said Colonel Keith Cunningham, the 17th Air Force chief of staff.
"We're now the lead element in air operations supporting Africa Command," he said. "We are receiving support from other agencies and we couldn't do it without them, but we've taken the lead."
Cunningham explained that ongoing progress is multifaceted, including gains in operational as well as command and control and administrative capabilities. People continue to arrive as the unit moves toward a total end strength reaching nearly 400 Airmen at its Ramstein Air Base headquarters.
The members of 17th Air Force and U.S. Air Forces Africa are excited about taking on a more direct role in support of Africa Command, he said.
"We've already established a pretty robust Theater Security Cooperation program in sync with Africa Command's strategic engagement program," Cunningham said. "And during the buildup of this organization, we've not only been working in cooperation with U.S. European Command and U.S. Air Forces in Europe, but U.S. Central Command and Air Forces Central as we take over air responsibility for the entire African area of responsibility."
For now, the unit is focused on airlift on the continent. Soon after the ceremonial
guidons were secured following activation, the unit received two C-130 Hercules aircraft and crews, deployed from the 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas.
Officials from 17th Air Force quickly formed an organizational structure to properly employ the aircraft in support of U.S Africa Command.
"The mission of the 404th is simple: Provide dedicated intratheater airlift in
support of U.S. Africa Command taskings," said Colonel Bob Holba, the first commander of the newly-formed 404th Air Expeditionary Group.
Because U.S. Africa Command has combined areas of responsibility formerly belonging to the U.S. Central and European Commands, air operations on the continent have begun transitioning to this new structure.
"We're very excited to be here and to be part of the stand-up of Air Forces Africa and to support the mission of Africa Command," Major Jason Havel said. "It took an incredible amount of coordination to become fully operational, flying missions into the continent, in such a short time span."
The consolidation of operational responsibility under Air Forces Africa has included the move of the 449th Air Expeditionary Group at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, central to Horn of Africa operations.
According to Holba, the 42nd has flown sorties in support of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, and is currently supporting the multilateral military training exercise Flintlock in Mali and Operation Enduring Freedom -- Trans Sahara in Northwestern Africa.
"Having an independent airlift capability, although small, allows U.S. Africa Command and us to better identify requirements and establish enduring relationships with our military and civilian partners," Holba explained.
Airlift is not the only support Air Forces Africa has been providing on the continent. Members of the 17th Air Force Plans Directorate have begun coordinating more than 30 Theater Security Cooperation events for fiscal 2009. Two events, in Nigeria and Morocco, have already taken place.
This kind of cooperative effort is directly in-line with the component's mission
of promoting air safety and security, said Major General Ronald R. "Ron" Ladnier, the 17th Air Force commander.
"Supporting Africans in building sustainable air safety and security means hands-on training and personal interaction," Ladnier said. "Through these events, we are actively engaged on an interpersonal level in helping our partners in Africa to develop these capabilities."
While Theater Security Cooperation events have been a facet of U.S. military activities on the continent for years, the new structure and focus under Africa Command makes it possible to expand the program.
"We're proud to have reached this point but very determined to keep pressing forward," Ladnier said. "We're beginning to make a difference on the continent, and that is our ultimate objective."