Col. William Walker leads the wing formation during the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing deactivation ceremony May 8, 2012, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. (Photo by Sgt. Joshua J. Garcia)
SOUTHWEST ASIA (May 9, 2012) — The 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing deactivated in a ceremony May 8 at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia.
Maj. Gen. James Jones, the deputy commander of U. S. Air Forces Central, presided over the ceremony which brought a storied era of 332nd history to a close.
Also in attendance were Matthew H. Tueller, the U.S. ambassador to Kuwait, and Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, the vice chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force.
“As the largest combat wing in the Air Force for most of its time frame, this wing served with distinction,” said Jones. “In the nearly 10 years since the wing flag was reinstated, the Red Tails have been the very backbone of AFCENT forces engaged in Operation Southern Watch, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.”
Nearly 100,000 Airmen rotated through the wing since 2002, enabling the unit to deliver almost 600,000 hours of persistent airpower throughout the U. S. Central Command area of responsibility.
“It’s fitting that, as we end our mission here, we look back and consider how much of an impact the 332nd has had across our total Air Force,” said Col. Paul Beineke, 332nd AEW commander.
In 1998, the 332nd Air Expeditionary Group activated at Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait, where they employed A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, F-16 Fighting Falcons, HH-60 Pave Hawk rescue helicopters and HC-130 Hercules aircraft in support of Southern Watch.
Beginning in 2001, the group also participated in Operation Enduring Freedom, playing a critical role in the defeat of the Taliban regime and later providing key air support for Afghanistan’s provisional government.
Later, the unit was re-designated as a wing and moved to Tallil Air Base, Iraq, in support of OIF, before ending up at Balad Air Base, Iraq, in 2004.
During the height of operations, the wing contained nine groups – including four geographically separated groups at Ali, Sather, Al Asad, and Kirkuk air bases – as well as numerous detachments and operating locations scattered throughout Iraq. The wing had as many as four fighter squadrons, an airlift squadron, a helicopter combat search and rescue squadron, two aerial reconnaissance squadrons and an air control squadron.
During the drawdown of forces from Iraq, the 332nd AEW provided intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, combat search and rescue, armed overwatch and close air support to one of the largest logistics movements since World War II.
In support of the re-posture of U.S. forces, the wing continued to support U.S. Forces-Iraq after forward deploying to an undisclosed air base in Southwest Asia in November 2011 so Joint Base Balad could be returned to the government of Iraq.
And as the last U.S. convoy left Iraq on Dec. 18, 2011, it was the 332nd AEW’s F-16s and MQ-1B Predators in the skies providing overhead watch.
Through all this, the 332nd AEW tried to live up to their lineage, which reaches back to the 332nd Fighter Group and the famed Tuskegee Airmen.
“We are proud to have continued (the Tuskegee) legacy in the current era,” said Beineke. “We stood up as a new wing devoted to the mission of the Iraqi campaign, and each day aware of the great heritage we’re heirs of, American Airmen tackled the mission with tenacity and amazing effort.”
The title Tuskegee Airmen refers to all who trained in the groundbreaking Army Air Corps pilot training program in Tuskegee, Ala., and includes pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors and all the personnel who kept the planes in the air.
Their aircraft were instantly recognizable due to the distinctive red tails and propellers, and the Red Tails earned a reputation as the fighter unit bomber pilots wanted as their escorts.
By the end of World War II, 992 men had graduated from pilot training at Tuskegee. Of these Airmen, 450 were sent overseas for combat; about 150 of those men lost their lives. These African-American men ran more than 200 bomber escort missions and managed to destroy or damage more than 409 German airplanes, 950 ground units and a destroyer.
“This unit is one of the Air Force’s most revered organizations, and it is an organization with a heritage of heroic contributions to the defense of freedom,” said Jones. “After nearly a decade in combat, the Red Tails will once again stand inactive, awaiting their next call to defend freedom.”