USAFE originated as the 8th Air Force in 1942 and flew heavy bombardment missions over the European continent during World War II. In August 1945, the command was given its current name, U.S. Air Forces in Europe. At that time, USAFE had 17,000 airplanes and 450,000 people.
During the Berlin Airlift in 1948 to 1949, USAFE airlifted more than 1.6 million tons of food, fuel and medical supplies to the blockaded city. With the formation of NATO in 1949, the United States was committed to help defend Western Europe against aggression from the Soviet Union, a mission that continued until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
In March 1973, Headquarters USAFE transferred from Lindsey Air Station, Wiesbaden, West Germany, to Ramstein Air Base. In the mid-1980s, USAFE maintained and operated 25 main bases and more than 400 geographically separated units in 190 different locations. These bases supported about 850 aircraft. The community stood at more than 140,000: 60,000 active-duty airmen, 10,000 civilian workers, and almost 70,000 family members.
Beginning in late 1990, USAFE mobilized and moved more than 180 aircraft and 5,400 people to the Persian Gulf area in support of operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. In addition, 100 aircraft and 2,600 personnel deployed to Turkey for Operation Proven Force, which denied the Iraqis a safe haven for their military forces in northern Iraq. USAFE also activated aeromedical staging facilities and contingency hospitals. More than 9,000 patients, mostly suffering from noncombat-related illnesses and injuries, were evacuated to Europe and more than 3,000 were treated at USAFE medical facilities.
After Desert Storm, USAFE provided emergency relief to Kurdish refugees fleeing Iraqi forces and enforced a no-fly zone over Northern Iraq. This mission, known first as Operation Provide Comfort and later Operation Northern Watch, continued until March 2003.
Since 1990, USAFE has handled more than 70 contingencies--more than twice as many in the 1970s and 1980s combined. For example, the command took part in Operation Provide Hope I and II, which airlifted food and medical supplies to the people of the former Soviet Union, and Provide Promise, the airlifting of supplies into war-torn Yugoslavia from July 1992 until December 1995.
USAFE also provided air protection over the skies of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Operation Deny Flight. Along with allies from NATO countries, USAFE aircrews applied airpower in Operation Deliberate Force, the bombing campaign that paved the way for the Dayton Peace Agreement. USAFE then helped deploy Peace Implementation Forces and equipment to Bosnia for Operation Joint Endeavor and sustained them by airlift.
USAFE forces again mobilized in March 1999 when NATO intervened in Kosovo to stop Serb repression of the province's ethnic Albanian majority. Efforts to find a diplomatic solution collapsed, resulting in Operation Allied Force - the NATO-led air war over Kosovo. The 78-day operation ended June 10, culminating in the withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo and the eventual return of refugees to their homeland. USAFE's 3rd Air Force led Joint Task Force Shining Hope, established to assist the hundreds of thousands of refugees expelled from Kosovo by Serb soldiers and paramilitaries. USAFE continues to contribute to NATO-led forces promoting peace and stability in Kosovo.
In February 2000, USAFE forces again responded to a humanitarian crisis, this time in southern Africa. Joint Task Force Atlas Response was established to airlift aid to victims of massive floods in Mozambique and other nearby countries. Working with international relief agencies, U.S. forces assisted with a variety of humanitarian-related activities, including the airlift of food and medical supplies, aerial surveillance and rescue operations in the region.
USAFE has been in the front lines of the war on terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001. During Operation Enduring Freedom, it supported an air bridge from Europe to Asia that delivered 3,300 tons of humanitarian daily rations to northern Afghanistan, opened a base in Kyrgystan for coalition forces, and established a medical evacuation network that moved nearly 4,000 patients. USAFE deployed 24 fighter aircraft, eight KC-135 tankers and nearly 2,400 people in Operation Iraqi Freedom. It opened an important airfield in northern Iraq and provided critical en route support to deploying forces, not to mention vital logistical and medical support to forward-deployed forces.
Today, USAFE airmen are engaged in a wide range of active U.S. military efforts in Europe and Africa, including realistic U.S. and NATO exercises and the war on terrorism. The command also plays a major role in furthering democracy in the former Eastern Bloc, as USAFE people take part in Partnership for Peace exercises and Military-to-Military contact programs. In July 2006, USAFE also supported the departure of nearly 15,000 American citizens from Lebanon following the outbreak of hostilities between Lebanese Hizbollah and Israeli Defense Forces in southern Lebanon.
USAFE averaged more than 1,500 deployed to the U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility in 2006. More than 3,000 are deployed in support of the war on terrorism and Iraqi Freedom. USAFE also hosted an average of 300 ANG and more than 1,000 active-duty personnel to the USEUCOM's AOR in 2006.