An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Marking 75 Years of 12th Air Force: Post-Cold War thru Today

  • Published
  • By Jenny Crider
  • 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) historian

This the final part of a three piece series article on the history of 12th Air Force in celebration of its 75th Anniversary.

Twelfth Air Force officially became the air component of United States Southern Command in 1987, a mission it still holds today. 

The designation put the Numbered Air Force in charge of all U.S. Air Force personnel and assets in the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility which included the Caribbean Sea, Central America, and South America.  One of the first major operations in its new role came with the December 1989 invasion of Panama to arrest the Panamanian Leader Manuel Noriega as part of Operation JUST CAUSE.

Twelfth Air Force also participated in follow-on Operation PROMOTE LIBERTY, the effort to rebuild the Panamanian military and civilian infrastructure.  Outside of the AOR, 12th Air Force provided personnel and aircraft in support of Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM in the Middle East from 1990-1991.

The U.S. Air Force inactivated Tactical Air Command and activated Air Combat Command June 1, 1992.  The same day the U.S. Air Force officially assigned 12th Air Force to ACC where it remains assigned to this day. 

In its role under ACC, 12th Air Force oversaw the organize, train, and equip mission of assigned forces as well as being a force provider for worldwide operations. 

A few months later, with the impending closure of Bergstrom AFB, the U.S. Air Force made the decision to move 12th Air Force to Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona.  The move became official on Oct 1, 1992 with most of the organization physically moving during the following year.

In the years that followed, 12th Air Force participated in Operation UPHOLD DEMOCRACY in Haiti in 1994, that same year Operation SAFE HAVEN, airlift operations to aid with the flood of Cuban refugees into Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and various other relief efforts airlifting everything from emergency supplies, vehicles, refugees, and even livestock. 

By the end of the decade, with the impending transfer of the Panama Canal from U.S. control to the Panamanians, 12th Air Force took the lead role in facilitating the shutdown of U.S. Air Force installations in the canal area, including Howard AFB, and absorbing the missions of the units formerly stationed there. 

In an effort to better execute missions in the AOR following the transfer of the Panama Canal, in 2002 they activated the 612th Theater Operations Group and the 474th Air Expeditionary Group.  Just a year later in 2003, 12th Air Force led the way bringing the U.S. Air Forces’ Warfighting Headquarters concept to life establishing an Air Force Forces staff and Air Operations Center.  At the same time, 12th Air Force continued its role as force provider supporting Operation ENDURING FEEDOM, Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, and the larger Global War on Terrorism. 

To this day the 12th Air Force continues to be a force provider for ongoing operations in Afghanistan and the more recent operations in Iraq and Syria.

The organization received its only designation change in its 75 years becoming the Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Feb 29, 2008. The new designation highlighted the Numbered Air Force’s long standing mission as the air component to U.S. Southern Command.

Since that time 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) has supported Operation UNIFIED RESPONSE, the disaster relief efforts following the 2010 Haiti Earthquake and JTF Matthew, the disaster relief effort in Haiti resulting from Hurricane Matthew, just to highlight a few of its many undertakings.