News: The End of an Era: 376th Air Expeditionary Wing inactivation ceremony
Story by Lt. Col. Max Despain
TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan - Airmen gathered in front of the headquarters building for an inactivation ceremony for the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing as part of the overall Transit Center at Manas closure June 3, 2014.
In a sunset event, Col. John C. Millard, 376th AEW commander sheathed the wing colors in a black sleeve, symbolically representing the organization's inactive status while Pamela L. Spratlen, U.S. ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic, observed the occasion.
In her comments, Spratlen described the moment as "bittersweet," complimenting the wing as "the absolute best of the United States military in your integrity, your commitment to the mission and your professionalism."
The ambassador reminded the crowd, "We are part of something much larger," and thanked the service members for their "extraordinary service."
Millard share his pride in the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing's role in closing the Transit Center, "You have made history as your spirit never faltered in the quest to accomplish the mission ... You are the last of the Liberandos."
After thanking the ambassador for her advocacy and her entire embassy's hospitality, he returned to the unique accomplishments of his wing: "You can forever be proud of the accomplishments you've made here ... This is a first of a last. You are the first Air Force-led base closure in Operation Enduring Freedom ... You are the first to mark a true end of an era."
For the more than 12 years the American military has operated out of this location, the center served as the premier transportation and logistics hub supporting operations in Afghanistan. The wing performed four critical missions to include air refueling, onward movement, airlift and humanitarian assistance.
In the course of its existence, the wing flew 33,000 air refueling missions, offloading more than 1.8 million pounds of fuel to 136,000 coalition aircraft.
The onward movement mission meant the Transit Center supported more than 5.3 million coalition personnel either traveling to or departing from Afghanistan.
Ninety-eight percent of all ISAF/Coalition forces going into and out of Afghanistan traveled through TCM.
At the same time the Transit Center supported 42,000 cargo missions, transporting 1.4 billion pounds of cargo.
The humanitarian assistance mission pillar only formally existed for four years, and those projects were conducted through the only Air Force Theater Security Cooperation division. They completed 37 humanitarian assistance projects at an investment of $4.7 million. There were more than 110 military-to-military exchanges and 188 social-cultural events resulting in interaction with more than 7,000 people.
The 376th Air Expeditionary Wing's roots date from the activation of the 376th Bombardment Group (Heavy) during World War II. The 376th took the name "Liberandos" from the B-24 Liberator bombers it flew during this conflict.
The 376th earned its place in history leading the air raids against Nazi Germany's oil fields in Ploesti, Romania in 1942. Although their efforts left the refineries severely damaged, enemy fire brought down 74 B-24s, and of the 89 that made it home, only one-sixth of those planes ever flew again. Hundreds of Airmen were killed or captured.
The Liberandos have been reactivated two more times, once as a bomb wing that took on a refueling mission in the 1960s and again for 20 more years, beginning in the 1970s, as a bomb wing, becoming a reconnaissance wing, operating in such diverse conflicts as Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm before inactivating in 1991.
Following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the wing was reactivated and designated the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing and stood up operations at the Manas International Airport, Kyrgyz Republic, on Dec. 21, 2001, where it has operated for more than 12 and a half years.