Expeditionary Task Force inactivates, 70-year tradition to continue

  • Published
  • By Col. Christopher Pike
  • 21st Expeditionary Mobility Task Force
On March 19, a 70-year long chapter of air mobility history will close here with the inactivation of the 21st Expeditionary Mobility Task Force.

The EMTF's lineage began in 1942, when the organization was first established as the 23rd Army Air Forces Ferry Wing. The unit changed names several times, but served continuously as a key component of Air Transport Command, Military Air Transport Service, Military Airlift Command, and Air Mobility Command. It became the 21st Air Force in 1966, and was assigned responsibility for nearly all of the air mobility flying and ground support units from the Mississippi River east to India. The 21st was re-designated the 21st EMTF in 2003 and given a completely different mission under the reactivated 18th Air Force.

The 21st EMTF was designated as a one-star command specifically charged with managing and cultivating several specialized missions essential to sustaining worldwide air mobility capacity. To assist in the execution of these missions, two wings were eventually stood up and aligned under the 21st, the 621st Contingency Response Wing and the 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing. Today, these units enable global reach by providing mobile and fixed air mobility "en route" support, air base opening, and air mobility advisory capabilities. The two wings have played an important role in many operations over the last nine years, from humanitarian missions supporting Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, flooding in Pakistan, the Haiti earthquake, and combat operations across the Middle East.

The missions of the 21st EMTF's wings remain as important as ever, but the need for an EMTF headquarters to manage them has declined due to changes in the strategic environment. Both the CRW and the AMOW are now firmly established units that have perfected their skill sets to a point where they no longer need the full-time advocacy of a general officer to remain viable. Moreover, due to a number of other organizational changes, the 18th AF's span of control and scope of missions have grown too large. Therefore, the 621st CRW and 521st AMOW will transfer under the command of the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center, where they will join seven other non-flying air base wings and two groups that have realigned from 18th AF to the Expeditionary Center.

These changes are designed to produce a better balance within AMC, with 18 AF primarily responsible for the command's flying units and the EC responsible for ground support units. For years, the EC has provided critical training to enhance Airmen CRW and AMOW skills. After the transfer it will remain postured to shape and fuse all aspects of readiness from doctrine to training to execution, both deployed and at home. The new structure will present the EC with a unique opportunity to formulate ever faster and more innovative solutions to the operational challenges faced by non-flying wings.

There is an old adage that the only constant in the Air Force is change, and the upcoming 21st EMTF inactivation is just one more example of its truth. On March 19 we will pause to look back in history and acknowledge the invaluable contributions of an organization with a long and proud heritage, and then respectfully retire its colors. However, even as we do so, our gaze will inevitably shift to the future, for the wings the EMTF nurtured still have much history to write--their organizational alignment is changing again, but their venerable tradition will continue.