• Published
  • By Dr. Andrew Wackerfuss and Capt. Emma Quirk
  • 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing
The 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing has accomplished another historic and defining year for the en route.

Coming off the heels of Operation ALLIES REFUGE and ALLIES WELCOME in 2021, Airmen of the 521st AMOW were accustomed to an unprecedented pace of operations.

Their no-fail role again came to the spotlight many times throughout 2022.

“This year the 5-2-1 was not defined by a single moment of greatness,” said Col. Dan Cooley, 521st AMOW commander. “Instead, it was defined by our Airmen working hard to support our nation, allies and partners over 365 days.”


Leading up to and following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the 521st AMOW was postured and ready to support North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies and partners.

As the Department of Defense’s strategic air transport organization in this theater, the 521st AMOW quickly provided a series of inter-theater strategic airlift missions for military members and cargo moving to bolster Europe’s Eastern flank.

“The flash to bang was quick,” said Col. Jens Lyndrup, commander of the 721st Air Mobility Operations Group. “We had to get things moving immediately and move them fast.”

Across the wing, Airmen engaged in an intense and sustained effort to transport Army Soldiers, move munitions and equipment, bed down tankers at non-standard stations, deploy fighter squadrons, conduct aeromedical evacuations, support stage crews, and deploy its members to augment capability across multiple nodes.

These herculean efforts, to move large quantities of personnel and equipment across theaters at short notice, demonstrate the key capabilities the 521st AMOW has long offered the U.S. Transportation Command and the DoD.

Reception of 18th Airborne Corps to Wiesbaden

Coordinating and synchronizing the timely delivery of security force assistance to Ukraine enabled the wing to develop new and innovative whole-of-government response tactics.

One of the first non-standard requests for AMOW support came during Russia’s buildup to an invasion as the U.S. postured to back European partners and allies. While normally the en route receives missions through existing nodes, this time the 721st Aerial Port Squadron sent a team of seven Airmen to Wiesbaden Army Airfield to support U.S. Army Europe’s movement of the 18th Airborne Corps into theater.

Within six hours, the team, its equipment, and two forklifts moved to Wiesbaden to work side by side with local airfield managers in supporting six C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. The first aircraft arrived early morning the next day.

Over the next two days, they moved 193 passengers, 29 pieces of rolling stock, and over 335,000 pounds of cargo.

The success of the rapid response came from strong partnerships built between the 721st APS, 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron, the 39th Transportation Battalion Movement Control Office, and Airfield Management at Wiesbaden AAF.

The team executed a safe and swift offload, and an effective Agile Combat Employment movement.

ACE is a proactive and reactive operational scheme of maneuver executed within threat timelines to increase resiliency and survivability while generating combat power.

Security Assistance

As U.S. Army elements moved into Europe, a surge of equipment and munitions began to arrive across the theater.

While Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and other existing en route nodes expected to see significant cargo, USTRANSCOM also opened an entirely new flex node. A civilian airfield was transformed into a critical hub for aid, offering an aerial port of disembarkation tightly connected to ground networks near the Ukrainian border.

The 435th Air Ground Operations Wing assumed the U.S. Air Force lead for security aid, but it received substantial assistance from 521st AMOW Airmen who deployed in key roles.

Because AMOW personnel are already stationed in theater, they can deploy rapidly to the point of need, offering options to Air Mobility Command and USTRANSCOM as they determine how to sustain a long-term presence.

“That is the beauty of the AMOWs,” said Lyndrup, “We’re already here in the fight, and we have built-in partnerships with other units in the area of responsibility.”

The first 521st AMOW members moved out from Ramstein AB on February 4. The team of 36 aerial porters and maintainers gained full operational capacity the very next day.

On February 6, the first C-17 aircraft arrived with elements of the 82nd Airborne Division’s Immediate Response Force. 521st AMOW Airmen remained at the center of events for the next two weeks.

The Russian invasion began February 24 and kicked operations into high gear. The 521st AMOW and its partners began another three months of surge operations.

Teams rotated periodically to give Airmen a chance to rest and recover. In total, 64 members came from the 521st AMOW in four teams. Members came from across the wing: the 721st APS, 721st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 726th Air Mobility Squadron, 724th Air Mobility Squadron, and 728th Air Mobility Squadron all contributed personnel.

“The magnitude of what was accomplished is not lost on me or my Ukrainian counterparts,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Stewart, 435th Contingency Response Squadron commander. “All our international and joint partners have voiced their gratitude and expressed how impressed they were that we could take an extremely dynamic environment and turn it into an organized and streamlined operation.”

At the end of May, security assistance operations had transitioned to a longer-term construct, and the last of the 521st AMOW members returned to their home stations.

In total, elements of U.S. European Command, including AMOW Airmen downloaded 1,079 flights, including a peak of 24 in a single day. Over 33,000 tons of cargo came through the station, as well as 8,217 passengers.

This operation tested the AMOW’s ability to augment contingency response forces in theater, generated fruitful lessons learned, and opened the door to several partnerships with NATO and Joint U.S. European Command partners.

Ramstein as an operational hub

Ramstein AB has traditionally been the DoD’s main airlift hub for operations in Europe, and this proved true yet again in the invasion response.

A significant amount of cargo came to Ramstein through ground channels, leading to a greater need than ever for the AMOW to be closely tied in with its Army partners.

As members of the 82nd Airborne Division arrived to Ramstein, the 721st APS handled the logistics of directing them to points across Europe, while at the same time continuing cargo movements.

Meanwhile, the 721st Mobility Support Squadron hosted the staged aircraft and crews, and provided them with command and control, intel and tactics briefs, cyber support, flight equipment, and security forces Ravens. The squadron also conducted aeromedical evacuation operations through its 10th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight.

721st AMXS maintainers provided en route aircraft maintenance and balanced aircraft parking needs with overall mission flow, including an unusually high number of commercial cargo missions. 521st AMOW and host wing units ensured these aircraft kept moving, and supplies reached where they needed to go.

The first major lift from the hub was in early March when the 521st AMOW moved 594 tons of materiel and 100 associated passengers across 19 missions.

Ramstein frequently functioned as an in-transit location for C-17s and C-5 Galaxy aircraft heading East. 521st AMOW Airmen at Ramstein also had significant support for U.S. Air Forces Europe C-130 Hercules conducting intra-theater movements of people, equipment, and cargo.

Among these massive cargo movements, the 521st AMOW supported the movement of Presidential Drawdown Authority cargo. PDA missions allow the delivery of equipment to Ukraine by drawing down from DoD stocks without going below U.S. readiness requirements.

Ramstein’s largest support to PDA movements occurred in August when 55 missions moved 575 aircraft pallets of munitions on C-130 and C-17 aircraft.

This movement roughly totaled the amount of rounds that all U.S. Army towed and self-propelled Howitzer Artillery Battalions shoot in an average two-year period. It was made possible by strong partnerships between 521st AMOW, the 19th Battlefield Coordination Detachment, and the Miseau depot.

This massive effort was recognized by leaders in each organization. In September, U.S. Army Col. Kevin Jackson, 19th BCD commander, visited the 721st APS to formally thank 48 members, present two coins, and award an Army Achievement Medal to Staff Sgt. Carissa Elam, 721st APS special handling supervisor, for her knowledge and expertise.

In October, Cooley presented the Air and Space Force Commendation Medal to U.S. Army Capt. Jazmenly Liriano, 19th BCD airlift ground liaison officer, who aligned the 521st AMOW with 21st Theater Sustainment Command to synchronize joint logistics in support of Ukraine and NATO.

Overall, 521st AMOW units on Ramstein supported 1,342 missions in the movement of 9,329 passengers and 32.6M pounds of cargo to multiple locations supporting Ukraine.

Support to tankers, fighters, and Joint partners

In parallel with personnel and equipment, aircraft moved around and into the European theater.

The 521st AMOW’s 726th AMS, hosted by the 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem AB, Germany, and 724th AMS, hosted by the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano AB, Italy, supported their USAFE combat air force partners. As the fighters prepared for potential movement, AMOW Airmen performed joint inspections, provided passenger services, and facilitated cargo movements.

“At all of our nodes, we have strong, interdependent relationships with host units, necessary for operational success,” said Cooley.

Several en route stations saw the arrival of new types of aircraft. KC-10 Extender tankers arrived at Royal Air Forces Mildenhall, United Kingdom, where the 727th AMS provided care and feeding, facilities, and administrative support for the AMC detachment members prior to their rotation to Spangdahlem. The 727th AMS also enabled rapid deployment of the 352nd Special Operations Wing when it was called upon for theater requirements.

The 726th AMS at Spangdahlem provided parking, facilities, and fleet services for the rotating KC-10 aircraft and later a KC-135 Stratotanker detachment staged in theater.

In addition to fighter support, 724th AMS enabled the movements of their U.S. Army neighbors at the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

In Spain, the 725th AMS, located on Naval Station Rota, led an enhanced team of additional forces at their detachment on Morón Air Base, Spain, to support the first AMC KC-46A Pegasus Employment Concept Exercise.

Over the course of the exercise, KC-46 aircraft and crews validated desired learning objectives, supported the CORONET rotation of fighter aircraft and operational missions in theater, and underwent several milestones, including the first time a KC-46 refueled an international receiver aircraft when a crew refueled a Spanish EF-18 Hornets, known in Spain as C-15s.

Because this year’s seasonal CORONET rotation took place at the same time as enhanced operations across the theater, the 725th AMS Det-1 coordinated the reception, communication, air ground equipment, and facility support required for the pop-up tanker detachment. A team of personnel from the 728th AMS at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, deployed to Morón AB to provide additional manpower for aerial port operations.


In late-May, in response to a critical domestic production shortage of baby formula, the President of the United States announced Operation FLY FORMULA to speed up the import of infant formula and start getting more formula to stores.

Initial planning intended to use DoD contracted commercial airlift; however, military airlift and the AMOW’s en route system offered unmatched immediacy and speed. The President announced the operation on May 19, and less than 72 hours later a C-17 aircraft offloaded pallets of infant formula onto commercial ground transport at Indianapolis International Airport. Enabled by 86th Security Forces Squadron, 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron, and others, the 521st AMOW load and launched the aircraft from Ramstein AB less than two days from official tasking.

After several months of providing aid from the United States to partners and allies abroad, the 521st AMOW, total force mobility aircrew, and mission partners on Ramstein AB were proud to deliver humanitarian support from Europe to American families back home.

Team Ramstein and commercial partners supported the second shipment only hours later, totaling 43 pallets, 99 tons of formula, and an estimated equivalent of 2 million bottles.

All subsequent missions took place on contracted airlift facilitated by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

According to a White House press release on September 29, Operation FLY FORMULA had transported more than 97.9 million eight-ounce bottle equivalents to the U.S. This effort was initiated and accelerated by 521st AMOW Airmen.


On June 23, the 521st AMOW held an inactivation ceremony for the 5th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron.

A World War II airlift unit that had been briefly in the Reserves during the Cold War, the “Fighting Fifth” was activated as a 521st AMOW unit in 2003, then served nearly two decades as a strategic airlift node through Ali Al Salem Air Base and Al Mubarak Air Base, Kuwait. With the Air Force’s transition to the Air Force new Force Generation Concept, or AFFORGEN, the 5th EAMS mission came to an end and it returned to inactive status.

Col. Nicholas Delcour, 521st AMOW vice commander, and Lt. Col. Kenya Colón, previous 5th EAMS commander, furled the guidon and celebrated a successful mission complete. The 521st AMOW retains a reduced presence at the location as a geographically separated detachment under the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron, at Al Udeid AB, Qatar.

“Very few people ever get the opportunity to say they met the requirement, that they successfully accomplished the mission they were tasked to do. The 5th EAMS did that. All Jokers everywhere should pat yourselves on the back,” said Delcour. “That said, you’re not done. There is still more work to be done. We need you to carry the hard-charging Joker’s spirit with you wherever you go. There are more problems to solve, and we need you!”

AFFORGEN became operational later in the year on Oct. 1, with the deployment of the 62nd Airlift Wing from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, to locations in U.S. Central Command, U.S. European Command, and U.S. Africa Command. With rigorous coordination between the 521st AMOW, AMC, geographic component commands, host installations, and the 62nd AW, the staged aircrew and aircraft at various en route nodes transitioned under the new model with zero mission degradation.


In July, the 521st AMOW jumped right into action following the Independence Day weekend. Ramstein AB hosted the 2022 Port Dawg Rodeo, which brought together ten units and 51 competitors from across the 521st AMOW and its mission partners. During the competition, teams tested their skills at driving port vehicles, performing inspections, and conquering an endurance course.

The 721st APS won the competition, 724th AMS took second place, and the 8th EAMS ranked third.

Beyond training and showcasing capabilities, the event allowed for learning, exercising multi-capable airmen skills, and building camaraderie among the Port Dawg community in the European and Central theatres.

The following day, the wing bid farewell to Col. Adrienne Williams, former 521st AMOW commander and current 18th Air Force vice commander, and welcomed Col. Dan Cooley as the eighth commander of the 521st AMOW.


In August, the 521st AMOW operating location at Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti, expanded their team by adding Aeromedical Evacuation crews from the 10th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight as well as a critical care air transport team.

This expansion provides critical and rapid medical response capabilities to the Africa area of responsibility.


In September, after Pakistan experienced historic levels of flooding, members of the 8th EAMS prepared and loaded U.S. C-17 aircraft with critical supplies.

According to a news release by U.S. Air Forces Central, from Sep. 8 to Sep. 16, C-17 aircraft from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, and C-130 aircraft from Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, delivered more than 1.5 million pounds of supplies in support of the United States Agency for International Development mission to provide supplies to displaced families at three locations in Pakistan.

“I am continuously in awe of these Airmen who work tirelessly to expedite the flow of humanitarian aid all while ensuring all the seams and gaps among the various stakeholders are closed,” said Col. Dawson Brumbelow, 521st Air Mobility Operations Group commander. “I certainly don’t lose any sleep wondering if they’re up to any challenge…they prove it time and again.” 


The 727th AMS facilitated the return of the AMC Patriot Express to RAF Mildenhall after a 17-year hiatus.

The rotator services the tri-wing and Joint community surrounding the base. The Patriot Express allows DoD families significant cost savings for transporting pets during their Permanent Change of Station.


This year continued the wing’s Regional Training Center C-5 ground trainer program.

C-5 ground trainers are static aircraft tasked to the en route that provide proficiency and qualification training opportunities for 445 maintainers across the wing. The 618th Air Operations Center tasks the aircraft for a 10-day period once every other month, usually rotating between Ramstein AB and NAVSTA Rota.

In 2022, 521st AMOW RTC used the events to train 193 maintainers on 20,067 tasks and 266 special certification roster qualifications.

RTC teams from the 521st AMOW and 515th Air Mobility Operations Wing, a sister wing operating in the Indo-Pacific theaters, hosted one another for cross-theater trainings.

In October, the 515th AMOW RTC team traveled to NAVSTA Rota to support the rotational training event. In November, the 521st AMOW RTC team returned the favor and traveled across the globe to train members of the 515th AMOW at Kadena Air Base, Japan – a rare but valuable in-person exchange program between the AMOWs.


October 24, the 521st AMOW commander unveiled his new strategy for the wing. Cooley crafted the strategy to align with higher headquarters guidance and by incorporating inputs from squadron and group leadership across the wing.

The commander utilized his Fall Commander’s Conference in August to bring leadership teams from each sub-unit together to talk about the 521st AMOW and gather perspectives on direction from the ground up.

The resulting strategy has three priorities that will drive the wing from “AMOW Now” to “NextGen AMOW.” Those are: 1) War-Ready Airmen, 2) Deliberate Transformation, and 3) Rapid Global Mobility.

“As AMC shifts focus to ensure the Global Air Mobility Support System can generate and sustain combat power to meet pacing threats, the 521st AMOW must shift and transform as well,” Cooley said. “NextGen AMOW is our charter, our future, and our requirement from higher headquarters.”
The wing immediately began analyzing real-world lessons learned and wing strategic guidance generated during the Nodal Lightning 22-2 tabletop exercise. Planners stressed the system and prepared for future iterations of the exercise that align with AMC’s ongoing Operation MOBILITY GUARDIAN campaign and Exercise MOBILITY GUARDIAN in 2023.


In 2022, 521st AMOW Airmen moved 240,000 passengers, 159,830 thousand short tons of cargo, and launched 13,043 departures. The 10th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight executed 254 missions and enabled the safe movement of 1,789 patients.

Airmen of the 521st AMOW will continue efforts in 2023 to craft war-ready Airmen, drive deliberate transformation, and continue to execute Rapid Global Mobility.

“I’m extremely proud of what this wing accomplished in 2022,” said Cooley. “In 2023, our Airmen will become more lethal, we will transform in order to dominate future air mobility logistics, and we will prove to be the DoD’s unfair advantage in any fight. With Operation MOBILITY GUARDIAN around the corner, let’s show them what we’ve got. Let’s go!”