12th Air Force personnel, visiting dignitaries, both current and past leadership, wing commanders, command chiefs, a former Vietnam Prisoner of War and Tucson civilians celebrated the 70th Anniversary of the Numbered Air Force (NAF) from its activation on 20 August 1942, during World War II under Brig. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, Aug. 23-24.
The two-day Anniversary celebration observed the storied history of the NAF and connected the peerless work of the men and women who performed NAF missions in the past with those who continue to execute the many and varied missions of the NAF today. 12th Air Force units participated in team building events and professional development seminars, and enjoyed a Formal Gala and Dining Out held at the Mirage Club.
“This was a grand celebration of the pioneering spirit of the Doolittle Raiders, may it continue to inspire Airmanship in the decades to come, as it has for the last 70 years,” said Lt. Gen. Rand, 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) commander. “The Anniversary Celebration gave our Airmen, families and Community partners a well-deserved pause in daily routines and an opportunity to reflect on our organization’s proud heritage and above all, camaraderie. The teams of outstanding Airmen who planned and executed this event took a pencil-sketch idea and created a three-star event. It was an honor to be amongst so many warriors and to regale in the rich heritage that is 12th Air Force.”
The Doolittle Raiders-themed event recognized the history of the NAF from its inception at Bolling Field in Washington, D.C. as an Army Air Forces combat force that deployed to the European theater in World War II. As the largest Air Force ever assembled at the time, the NAF was the air component to Operation TORCH, the first major Allied land-sea-air offensive during World War II. 12th Air Force was involved in operations in North Africa, the Mediterranean, France and Germany, by VE-Day the forces had flown 430,681 sorties, dropped 217,156 tons of bombs and claimed destruction of 2,867 aircraft.
The 70th Anniversary celebration began with an Icebreaker at the Heritage Hangar where NAF personnel and their families were able to view current assigned aircraft, experience the poignant “Walls of Balad” exhibit and familiarize themselves with the histories of each 12th Air Force wing. With the backdrop of a stunning Arizona sunset and live music played by the Air Force Band of the West, “it was a time and place where everyone from our youngest family members to our most senior leaders could come together as one community,” said Maj. Jon Paskewitz, event coordinator and member of the 612th Air Communications Squadron. “Games, activities, face painting and a self-created WWII bomber and A-10 Warthog caricatures for the kids exemplified our Airmen’s ingenuity and dedication to creating an all-inclusive event. Likewise, the Heritage Walk, static aircraft displays and Balad hospital walls portrayed our legacy and missions today, all testifying to what can happen when people are given a point to aim for and nearly free-rein to achieve their goals. This group hit a home-run and it’s a shame that it only lasted one evening.”
On Friday, a commander’s call and heritage briefing preceded a morning of Professional Development seminars. Before lunch, Col. (retired) Lee Ellis gave a presentation to all NAF personnel from his most recent book, “Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.” As an F4-C Phantom fighter-bomber he flew 68 combat missions with 53 over North Vietnam where he was shot down and held as a prisoner of war for more than five years.
Of his experiences, Col. Ellis said, “The human body, mind, and spirit can endure and overcome far more than one might expect. When we’re beaten down, the physical body and the human psyche have an amazing ability to persevere.” He connected his experiences as a POW to the principles he applies to leadership today; from exploiting your peoples’ strengths, creating a positive mindset and focusing on top-down communication. “A strong will and a positive outlook, undergirded by an unwavering commitment to duty, can overcome enormous hardships. Add to that the support of others and a strong spiritual faith, and you have the fundamental formula for bouncing back.” (Page 82, Leading with Honor)
Senior Master Sgt. Benjamin Miranda, Jr., the 70th Anniversary Celebration co-chair from the 12th AF Force Protection office said, “It was an honor to be part of these events. We had great Airmen throughout 12th who stepped up to the plate to ensure every detail was polished for all of our guests. This was our chance to honor our heritage and hope for the future. For the past 70 years, the men and women of 12th have consistently demonstrated the Air Force core values of integrity, service before self, and excellence. This heraldic celebration embraced the whole picture of Airmanship: professionalism, bravery and sacrifice.”
More than 350 people gathered on Friday night for the culmination of the 70th Celebration Gala at the Mirage Club where history and leadership mingled in a star-studded affair. The room was treated to the Twelfth Air Force Wings Parade of Flags, a Warrior Remembrance ceremony, and a musical presentation by the Air Force Band of the West. “An incredible message of service and leadership was delivered by Col. Ellis who reflected on his 64 months in Hanoi after being shot down as a 1st Lieutenant,” said Lt. Gen. Rand. “We were very fortunate to have this American hero attend our celebration and provide his poignant perspective on sacrifice and leadership.”
After WWII, 12th AF was inactivated and reactivated during the post-WWII period, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, Operations JUST CAUSE, UPHOLD DEMOCRACY, and SAFE HAVEN for Cuban refugees. In 1993, the headquarters officially moved to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and its units have contributed to Operations DESERT SHIELD, DESERT STORM, SOUTHERN WATCH, PROVIDE COMFORT, DENY FLIGHT, PROVIDE PROMISE, RESTORE HOPE, JOINT ENDEAVOR and UNIFIED RESPONSE.
In the Global War on Terrorism, the command has provided forces to Operations ENDURING FREEDOM, IRAQI FREEDOM and NOBLE GUARDIAN.
12th Air Force ensures the readiness of 10 active duty wings and one direct reporting unit. It is responsible for the combat readiness of 20 Twelfth Air Force-gained wings and other units of the Air Force Reserve and National Guard. Its 65,500 active duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Airmen employ, sustain, and maintain 22 airframes, totaling more than 730 combat aircraft.
As Air Forces Southern, and the Combined/Joint Force Air Component Commander, AFSOUTH commands and controls assigned air assets in support of United States Southern Command to ensure security and enhance stability throughout the Americas, focusing on Countering Transnational Organized Crime, building partner nation capacity and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.