The origin of 12th Air Force began with a series of meetings conducted in
mid-1942 when Allied planners were developing a strategy for the invasion of Northwest Africa. Dubbed "Operation Torch," the hope was that this effort would serve as a preliminary step toward the invasion of Europe. Because this extensive and complex operation would require a new Air Force organization to provide manpower and equipment, plans for the activation of 12th Air Force were prepared simultaneously with the invasion strategy.
Accordingly, the Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron of 12th Air Force activated at Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., on August 20, 1942. A headquarters detachment for planning was also formed (in England) under the direction of Brig. Gen. James H. Doolittle. During the interim period between the activation of 12th Air Force headquarters and its arrival in England, General Doolittle was responsible to Maj. Gen. Carl Spaatz, Commander of Eighth Air Force, which resulted in 12th Air Force code name, "Eighth Air Force Junior," or simply "Junior." The Headquarters element, from Bolling Field, arrived in England in early September and General Doolittle formally assumed command of 12th Air Force on September 23, 1942.
On November 10, 1942, 12th Air Forces 33d Fighter Group's Curtiss P-40 Warhawks catapulted from the aircraft carrier USS Chenango and landed at Port Lyautey airdrome, French Morocco. This operation marked the onset of a fighting tactical air force that would see action in ten separate campaigns in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and Southern France. By the end of the Second World War, the Airmen of 12th Air Force had flown 21 different types of aircraft that ranged from heavy bombers to seaplanes to light observation planes and developed close air support air-ground coordination teams that set a model for other numbered Air Forces. These same Airmen flew 430,681 sorties, dropped 217,156 tons of bombs, claimed destruction of 2,857 enemy aircraft, and lost 2,667 of their own aircraft. On August 31, 1945, after hostilities ended in Europe, 12th Air Force was inactivated.
During the immediate postwar period, when the overriding interest of the American people was the return to peace and normalcy, those who were responsible for defense preparations began to rebuild a peacetime air force. As a component of this preparation, 12th Air Force reactivated on May 17, 1946, at March Field, in Riverside, Calif., and reassigned to the recently established Tactical Air Command (TAC). During the early postwar years, 12th Air Force achieved several notable firsts. For example, it became the first numbered air force to be equipped with a jet aircraft, the P-80. The 12th Air Force also participated in numerous exercises to refine air-ground coordination and cooperated with naval and ground forces in a number of amphibious operations connected with the defense of Alaska.
In December 1948, 12th Air Force moved to Brooks AFB, in San Antonio, Texas, and assigned to the newly formed Continental Air Command. From this point until mid-1950, 12th Air Force was responsible for maintaining the operational readiness for Air Force Reserve Program units in five states: Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. Although discontinued for the last six months of 1950, 12th Air Force would soon receive a new mission, and a new home.
Reactivated on January 21, 1951 at Wiesbaden, Germany, and assigned to United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), 12th Air Force soon achieved another milestone in April 1952 when it became the first USAFE unit to be committed to newly created North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Charged with conducting the aerial mission of NATO's Allied Air Forces Central Europe, the 12th Air Force, along with French and Canadian air units, formed the 4th Allied Tactical Air Force. The 12th Air Force commander also served as the Commander, 4th Allied Tactical Air Force. As part of a USAFE base realignment, 12th Air Force moved in April 1953 from Wiesbaden to Ramstein, Germany. From Ramstein AB, 12th Air Force continued to operate in its coequal role as a tactical air force for USAFE and NATO through December 1957.
In January 1958, 12th Air Force relocated, this time to James Connally AFB, in Waco, Texas, and reassigned to Tactical Air Command. The 12th Air Force remained at
James Connally AFB for the next ten years where its mission was "to ensure tactical aircrew and unit combat readiness" to include the capability to conduct joint air operations. Alongside maintaining readiness, the 12th Air Force also participated in real world missions that included the 1958 Formosa Straits, the 1962 Cuban, and the 1965 Dominican Republic crises. For its part in the Formosa Straits crisis, 12th Air Force was awarded the 1958 Mackay Trophy for rapid and effective deployment of Composite Air Strike Force X-Ray Tango.
During the war in Southeast Asia (1965-1973), 12th Air Force and Ninth Air Force - two of Tactical Air Commands numbered air forces - were the primary source for tactical fighter, reconnaissance, and airlift forces used throughout the Southeast Asian theater. As such, this war had a significant impact on 12th Air Force activities. By late 1965, as the air effort expanded in support of ground forces, the need for replacement aircrews for units in theater rose sharply. To meet this need, the 12th Air Force mission shifted in emphasis from ensuring tactical operational readiness to training aircrews and support personnel for Southeast Asian operations.
By mid-1966, 12th Air Force units were in full swing with training combat aircrews. In order to provide a steady stream of aircrews to the combat area, Replacement Training Units were activated at most 12th Air Force bases. In addition to providing trained and experienced pilots for tactical fighter aircrews, Twelfth Air Force was also heavily involved in providing tactical airlift support and developing a tactical reconnaissance mission. During this period, 12th Air Force moved once again. As result of the closure in September 1968 of James Connally AFB, 12th Air Force moved a few miles south to Bergstrom AFB, in Austin, Texas.
As the tempo of combat operations in Southeast Asia began to slow in the early 1970s, the demand for replacement aircrews decreased. This allowed 12th Air Force to begin a shift away from combat crew replacement training and back to combat readiness to include rapid reaction capabilities that represented its traditional primary mission. To conduct this mission 12th Air Force directed the activities of four air divisions and thirteen tactical flying and training wings. In addition, 12th Air Force supervised the activities of the only squadron dedicated to training tactical launch crews for the Ground Launched Cruise Missile weapon system. While a number of events highlighted the ability of 12th Air Force to meet its mission requirements during this period, one notable event was its October 1983 participation in Operation Urgent Fury, the joint and combined invasion of the island nation of Grenada. During this contingency, 12th Air Force provided an Air Force Forces element to the joint operations staff. This cadre of Twelfth Air Force personnel worked to direct tactical air operations and ensure the most efficient use of available forces.
In January 1987, an additional mission was assigned to 12th Air Force, that of the air component for the United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM). At this time the
12th Air Force commander took on the added responsibility of United States Southern Command Air Forces commander. As such, the commander managed all Air Force personnel and assets in the USSOUTHCOM area of responsibility (AOR) i.e., Central and South America and the Caribbean Sea region, which at the time was part of the US Atlantic Command. One early notable operation in this new role was its December 1989 participation in Operation Just Cause, during which 12th Air Force and other Air Force units deployed in support of US Army forces in order to return democracy to Panama.
With the end of the Cold War in 1991, the 12th Air Force's air component mission shifted to what it remains today: counter-transnational organized crime, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and building partnership capacity. This tripartite focus has placed 12th Air Force into a direct relationship with the majority of air forces in the region and has offered unparalleled opportunities for cooperation and engagement. In June 1992, the 12th Air Force was assigned to (the newly established) Air Combat Command. Later that year in October, the organization was once again to Davis-Monthan AFB, in Tucson, Ariz. In September 1994, as part of Operation Uphold Democracy, 12th Air Force was called-upon once again to help restore stability and democracy to the region. This operation was a United Nations mandated and a US led Multi-National Force to return to power to democratically elected Haitian President.
By the time the Panama Canal Treaty reached the final moment of implementation on December 31, 1999, the US had dismantled and removed its entire military presence from Panama. This meant that 12th Air Force had to oversee the closures of Panama's Albrook Air Force Station and Howard AFB and to absorb their mission-essential operations. Between 1999 and 2000, 12th Air Force successfully accomplished the "mission migration" of all key operations out of Panama and moved them to Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., and other strategically located forward operating locations in Central and South America, and the Caribbean region.
As part of a Department of Defense effort to realign designations with functions, 12th Air was redesignated 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) on February 29, 2008. This new designation reflects the role that 12th Air Force, as a component Numbered Air Force, executes as the air component for the USSOUTHCOM. One recent mission in particular stands out to reflect that role. In mid-January 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake with multiple aftershocks brought devastation to the people and infrastructure of Haiti. In response, USSOUTHCOM tasked 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern), as part of Operation Unified Response, to open an airway and provide air and space command and control for a massive air relief effort. On a single runway airfield, Airmen masterfully and continuously coordinated the flying in US and international relief supplies and emergency response personnel and the flying out medical evacuees. In addition, 12th Air Force (Air Force Southern) also executes and/or participates in numerous humanitarian assistance exercises to include New Horizons and Beyond the Horizon.
The dual mission of 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) continues today as an Air Combat Command (ACC) component Numbered Air Force and as the air component for US Southern Command. On the ACC side, the unit ensures that assigned and aligned forces, 10 active and 23 Air Force Reserve Command and Air National Guard units, are properly trained and equipped. As the air component for USSOUTHCOM, it has the responsibility for all USAF forces in the US Southern Command AOR, to develop air and space contingency plans, and to provide command and control of the AOR air, space, and cyber operations. With a long and proud history, stretching back nearly three quarters of a century, 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) stood and stands ready to support the defense requirements of the United States and its allies today and into the future.
12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs Office
Comm: (520) 228-6053