Former commander reflects on service, changes at 515th AMOW

  • Published
  • By Amelia Dickson
  • 515th Air Mobility Operations Wing

When retired Maj. Gen. Steven W. Oliver Jr. took command of the 515th Air Mobility Operations Wing in April of 2010, the unit was in its infancy. The 515th AMOW had only been activated on June 5, 2008. Oliver, then a colonel, was only the wing’s second commander.

“When I got here, the wing was just two years old,” Oliver said. “A lot of folks didn’t understand that we were a wing. Within the wing itself, we had a lot of identity work to do. And I think the folks at Air Mobility Command headquarters were still grappling with what it meant to have two en route wings.”

Oliver returned to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii on Feb. 25 as the guest speaker for the 515th AMOW’s Annual Awards Banquet. Col. Kyle Benwitz, 515th AMOW commander, said that Oliver’s speech provided important context about the organization for current Airmen and leaders.

“To have an en route pioneer like Maj. Gen. Oliver speak and connect with the Airmen of the 515th AMOW was a surreal opportunity,” Benwitz said. “Engaging with him linked our origins to our future and emphasized the critical importance of the Indo-Pacific Warriors’ mission to project combat power on demand.”

Oliver noted that over the years, the identity of the 515th AMOW has solidified. People throughout AMC and the U.S. Department of Defense increasingly recognize the unique role the 515th AMOW plays in the Indo-Pacific, he said. And as priorities in the theater evolve, so too does the Wing.

“I think the importance of the AMOW hasn’t decreased at all, and it is certainly changing,” Oliver said. “It’s changing with the capabilities in the region. The ‘lift and shift’ or ‘Agile Combat Employment’ capabilities are game changers for the Pacific.”

Under his command from 2010 to 2012, the 515th AMOW was a much more static organization, Oliver explained. The unit’s six squadrons were already strewn across the region, in the same locations where they are now.

But events from Oliver’s tenure also set the stage for the wing’s current focus on agility.

Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted April 14, 2010, within days of Oliver assuming command of the 515th AMOW. Clouds of ash disrupted military flights throughout Europe.

At the time, U.S. Transportation Command and AMC were focused on the flow of supplies and personnel to and from Iraq and Afghanistan, Oliver recalled. To fulfill the mission, aircraft had to be re-routed through the Indo-Pacific region to reach those destinations.

The 730th Air Mobility Squadron’s Detachment 1 at Diego Garcia, an atoll in the Indian Ocean, was perfectly situated to assist.

“They turned that flow west,” Oliver said. “We pulled from some nodes and bolstered other nodes in order to support that flow through Diego Garcia, into Afghanistan and Iraq.”

“We did lift and shift, but we did it at hoc,” he added.

These days, the 515th AMOW and its units are working to build Air Mobility Teams, which can be deployed to bolster capabilities throughout the region. Teams from the 732d Air Mobility Squadron and the 735th Air Mobility Squadron recently deployed to Guam and neighboring islands as part of Cope North 2023.

Oliver later went on to serve the 515th AMOW and the en route enterprise in a different capacity, as vice commander of the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center from August of 2016 through September of 2017. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 2021.

The 515th AMOW, headquartered at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, oversees two groups and six air mobility squadrons strategically located throughout the Indo-Pacific region in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, Japan and Korea. The wing is also responsible for three detachments, and 13 operating locations and small terminals.