U.S. Air Forces in Europe, a command in transformation

  • Published
  • By Col. Ralph O. Stoffler
  • USAFE, A3W
Nearly 26 years ago to the day I arrived at Rhein Main AB, Germany, "The Gateway to Europe" as 2nd Lt. Ralph Stoffler, enroute to my first duty station, Feucht Army Airfield in Nuernberg, Germany. Rhein Main was a sprawling Air Base collocated with even busier Frankfurt International Airport. In Nuernberg I found a large U.S. community with eight major posts and nearly 50,000 personnel. Our mission was to monitor and protect the border between the West and the East. 

Weather folks at Det 1, 7th Weather Squadron just as our brethren Army warriors, the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment were "Toujours prêt," Always Ready, to defend our freedom. Our mini-tank, an M577A2 Command Post Carrier, housed our radio teletype system or RATT-RIGG and our tactical weather station. This WWII vintage antiquated equipment was often supplemented with the latest gear we bought from the local Post Exchange with our coke fund money. I will never forget when I briefed the 7th Corps Operations Group with weather charts intercepted from Radio Moscow with a PX bought High Frequency receiver. Certainly then; I would never have believed that "Iron Curtain" would raise itself anytime soon. 

Did it change! Today Rhein Main AB is gone. The Frankfurt Airport has absorbed the base completely. The C-5s and C-17s now share our new runway and ramp with A-10s and F-16s at Spangdahlem AB. The fighters left Ramstein AB and it has assumed the mantle of "The Gateway to Europe." Feucht AAF is now a German industrial complex, the eight posts in Nuernberg are gone and the housing areas are luxury condominiums. When you drive on the new six-lane Autobahn from Nuernberg to Berlin you can't tell where the old border was. It isn't over yet. 

Over the last three years as the U.S. Air Forces in Europe A3W, I have presided over the latest European transformation. Our last two Army divisions are pulling up stakes and moving home. The first new expeditionary Stryker Brigade has arrived at Vilseck, parts of USAFE's Warrior Preparation Center are preparing for move to Grafenwoehr training area; we are reducing to one Numbered Air Force and the command itself is preparing for CONUS reachback. 

Even as we are transforming, NATO is transforming with us. A new facility recently opened on Ramstein to house a new NATO headquarters; CC-Air Ramstein. Gone are the geographical commands that protected the West from the Warsaw Pact. Today, NATO forces are deployed in Bosnia, Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan and many other locations. The United States has integrated into the new NATO Response Force deployment cycle and we are ready to work with NATO on a moment's notice anywhere in the world. Today U.S. Meteorological and Oceanographic products support NATO operations in Afghanistan as the United States has become one of the first nations to provide weather support in NATO's new Lead Nation concept. Only cooperation between NATO, Air Combat Command, USAFE, Central Command and European Command weather staffs allow this mission to move down a successful path. 

Besides being the USAFE A3W, I am also the Senior Meteorological Officer to U.S. European Command. And, EUCOM is transforming as well. Now, instead of focusing on the East and the Soviet threat, U.S. Marine Corps General James Jones, Commander, USEUCOM says the command spends 65 to 70 percent of its time issues in Africa.
The USAFE Operational Weather Squadron at Sembach has become the 21st OWS and as you walk the operations floor you run across more Navy personnel. The 21st OWS is now a joint center for all meteorological operations in EUCOM. Resource protection products, TAFs and transient aircrew briefings for all Army, Navy, and Air Force locations in EUCOM are now supported by one joint center. The 21st OWS continues to amend TAFs for all local specification criteria allowing our Weather Flights to fully focus on integration with their combat operators. 

The RATT-RIGGS of old are long gone. Our CWTs are equipped with lightweight R-BGAN communication systems that provide internet connectivity anywhere in our area of responsibility. By the end of this year the Global Broadcast System will have replaced V-SAT and T-VSAT. The latest version of our NATO Automated Meteorological Information System will provide the entire 26 European nation OPERA radar network to our CWTs allowing us to finally shut down the tactical weather radars in the theater. Iridium technology is sending observations automatically from Bosnia to the Air Force Weather Agency at Offutt AFB, Neb. 

Over the next few months we are moving to another great milestone. As I type this article, the legacy observing systems on our fixed Army and Air Force installations are being removed. Automated observing is coming. 

Without a doubt, many will smirk with concern and disbelief that we could automate observing. This is one thing we have done right for 40 years. Why change now?
Change, folks, is inevitable. Nothing remains forever. We must transform and use and apply our precious remaining resources where they are needed most. Where we can impact the mission most? We can now realize the final tenant of reengineering. Home station support is handled by the OWS, allowing smaller CWTs to shut down for training and deployments. The pressure of trying to man two locations at once while in a high ops tempo can be alleviated. 

Too often in our career field we inject massive organizational changes or multi-million dollar system upgrades only to return to business as usual. This isn't just an Air Force weather thing, it is common to weather people world wide. I travel much in this job and have seen weather operations in almost every nation in Europe. Many, like us, have invested millions in technology and training, yet many of their business practices are just like they were 20 years ago. 

I challenge you to look at your jobs and functions and ask, "Do you know why you are doing what you are doing?" Too often, the answer is: "We have always done it that way." No one really asks if a service is still needed or could we do it more efficiently or effectively. We hate change and prefer our comfort zone. 

My message is that guided change is necessary to keep our operations viable within the resource constraints that we operate in today. We need to look at our task and processes and we need to leverage the entire DoD team. Be an active and positive player in our change process. Make transformation a part of your daily operations.
As I close, I will tell you that fast change can often leave much broken glass. We want to avoid the broken glass by making smart decisions with inputs from the field. We don't want to break anything but we must move forward. 

Thankfully for those of us in USAFE, there is one constant. The glasses in Germany have gotten smaller and more expensive, but the beer tastes just as good as it did 26 years ago.