The east gate of Ramstein Air Base is about , from Kaiserslautern (locally referred to by Americans as "K-Town"). Other nearby civilian communities include Ramstein-Miesenbach, just outside the base's west gate, and Landstuhl, about from the west gate.
The host unit is the 86th Airlift Wing (86 AW), whose commander also serves as the Kaiserslautern Military Community commander. The 86th Airlift Wing is composed of four groups, 16 squadrons and three bases in Germany, Spain and Belgium. Its mission is the operation and maintenance of airlift assets consisting of C-130Es, C-20s, C-21s, C-40B and C-37A Gulfstream aircraft throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Also residing at Ramstein is the 435th Air Base Wing (435 ABW), which focuses on base-support responsibilities within the KMC. It is composed of five groups and 20 squadrons. The wing provides rapid mobility and agile combat support for military operations, and maintains expeditionary forces and infrastructure.
The commander of the 435th ABW is Colonel Donald Bacon.
The new 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing stood up on September 4th.
Ramstein's wings are assigned to the newly created HQ Air Command Europe also headquartered at Ramstein AB.
Ramstein AB part of the Kaiserslautern Military Community (KMC), where more than 16,400 American service members and more than 5,400 US civilian employees live and work. US organizations in the KMC also employ the services of more than 6,200 German workers. Air Force units in the KMC alone employ almost 9,800 military members, bringing with them nearly 11,100 family members.
From 2004 to 2006, Ramstein Air Base underwent an extensive expansion with a major construction project - including an all-new airport terminal, among other new facilities, through the so-called Rhein-Main Transition Program which was initiated in support of the total closure of Rhein-Main Air Base on 30 December, 2005 and transferring all its former capacities to Ramstein Air Base (70%) and Spangdahlem Air Base (30%).
While the KMC remains the largest U.S. community overseas at 53,000 people, the defense drawdown continues to shape its future. Due to the departure of other main operating installations, more than 100 geographically separated units receive support from Ramstein.
There is often a Summer Camp to Ramstein from British CCF (RAF) and ATC cadets.
On 1 June 1953 Ramstein Air Base was opened. Ramstein Air Base, on the north of Kisling Memorial Avenue was the location of headquarters, Twelfth Air Force, and supported family housing, base exchange, commissary, dependents' schools and other administrative offices. On 27 April 1953, Headquarters, Twelfth Air Force was activated on Ramstein Air Base.
Landstuhl Air Base was built as an operational air base with the runway, control tower, ramps and other flight-related facilities and the associated flying and support units. On 1 February 1952, Det 1, 86th Fighter-Bomber Wing arrived at Landstuhl Air Base from Neubiberg Air Base.
The 86th Air Base Group was activated as the main base support unit for Landstuhl, while the 7030th HQ Support Group was the main base support unit for Ramstein. On 1 December 1957, the two bases were consolidated into the largest NATO-controlled air base in service on the continent. It was called Ramstein-Landstuhl Air Base, but later, through common usage, came by its present name, Ramstein Air Base in 1958.
One legacy of the two separate air bases was that the north side of Ramstein retained a separate APO from the south side. The north side (Ramstein AB) was APO New York 09012, while the south side (Landstuhl AB) was APO New York 09009. Also separate Combat Support Groups, the 7030th for the north side, and the 86th for the south side existed. These were consolidated in the 1980s when APO AE 09094 was established as a unified postal address, and the two Combat Support units were merged into the 377th Combat Support Wing.
Near the Ramstein Air Base is the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC), operated by the United States Army. Although part of the Kaiserslautern Military Community, LRMC has a separate history and was never a part of Ramstein or Landstuhl Air Bases, although both facilities have utilized the medical facilities at LRMC since they were established in 1953.
On 31 January 1973, several headquarters were relocated into and out of Ramstein, when Seventeenth AF moved to Sembach Air Base to make room for the expected move of HQ USAFE to Ramstein. This entire operation, code-named Creek Action, was carried out as part of the USAF's new world-wide policy of locating the most vital headquarters in thinly populated rural areas rather than near cities.
As a result of this policy change, Ramstein air base became a large multi-national NATO center: in addition to the USAFE's headquarters, it also housed the new NATO headquarters of the Allied Air Forces Central Europe (AAFCE).
The AAFCE also commanded the 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force (2ATAF) and the 4th ATAF. The 4th ATAF, which had been headquartered at Ramstein for many years, included the 1st Canadian Air Group, 1st and 2nd Divisions of Germany's Luftwaffe, and units of the USAFE's 3rd and 17th Air Force.
HQ USAFE completed its move from Wiesbaden to Ramstein on 14 March.
With USAFE's arrival, Ramstein entered a period of expansion. The commander of the 86 TFW became host commander of Americans living in the Kaiserslautern Military Community.
Allied Air Forces Central Europe was established at Ramstein on 28 June 1974. Ramstein subsequently provided support for other headquarters, including the 322nd Airlift Division which arrived on 23 June 1978, and SAC's 7th Air Division, which arrived on 1 July 1978.
In December 1980, HQ Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force was moved from Ramstein to Heidelberg and co-located with HQ Central Army Group.
Close to Ramstein was the site of Air Defense Operations Center (ADOC) - Kindsbach, AKA 'Kindsbach Cave' - the site of Europe’s underground combat operations center.
The facility was located in a former German western front command headquarters. The French took control of the underground bunker after World War II, and USAFE assumed control in 1953. After major renovations, USAFE opened the center on 15 August 1954.
The center was a state-of-the-art 67-room, facility where USAFE could have led an air war against the Soviet Union. The center had a digital "computer" to work out bombing problems, cryptographic equipment for coded message traffic and its own photo lab to develop reconnaissance photos. Responsible for an air space extending deep behind the Iron Curtain, the center interacted directly with The Pentagon, NATO, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe and all USAFE bases. With its massive telephone switchboard and 80 teletype machines, the cave was plugged into everything in the outside world. The center was receiving more than 1,000 calls a day.
As a further measure of protection, the cave was fully self-contained with its own water supply, electric backup-generators, climate controls, dining facilities and sleeping accommodations for its 125-man crew. Visitor passes were rarely issued to this secret facility.
Throughout the years, leadership changed but USAFE led the operations through numbered Air Forces. The center’s commander was the USAFE Advanced Echelon. The glassed-in office was on the top floor of the three-story underground command center. Directly under the office was the management for offensive air operations. And the bottom floor office was the management for defensive air operations – to include support for U.S. Army forces and German Civil Defense. All three offices had a full view of the massive Air Operations Center map on the opposing wall.
The AOC was the largest room in the complex. Its three-story map was used to plot minute-by-minute movements of friendly and unidentified aircraft. But the center was much more than just a tracking station, because it could also react to threats. They always knew the current operational status of air weapons in theater including missiles, and could dispatch armed response "at a moment's notice".
By the early 1960s, the manual plotting system used to track aircraft at the cave and elsewhere throughout Germany was too slow and inaccurate for the quick responses necessary. Beginning in 1962, airmen trained in the new 412L air weapons control system began to arrive in Germany and at the cave. Over the next year, the new GE semi-automatic system was installed. When complete at the cave, the current air picture over East and West Germany, as well as parts of the eastern soviet block countries, was displayed on a 40-foot by 40-foot (12 x 12 m) screen. Senior US staff monitored the dynamic display 24/7. Over the next several years, additional 412L sites throughout Germany joined the network until the manual system had been totally replaced.
By 1984, the Kindsbach Cave had become too small and its cost for renovation too high, and USAFE vacated the facility. On 31 October 1993, control was returned to the German government. Today the Kindsbach Cave remains sealed – a relic of the Cold War in Europe.
Some Germans also criticize the use of Ramstein as a logistics hub for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Reassigned from Neubiberg Air Base, West Germany in 1952 and except for a period between 1968 and 1973, the 86th Wing, under various designations, has been the main operational and host unit at Ramstein Air Base.
Throughout the 1950s the 86th was primarily a Fighter-Bomber Wing. In 1960, it was realigned to an air defense mission and became the 86th Air Division (Defense). The 86th AD was inactivated in 1968. Returning as an F-4 Phantom II Tactical Fighter Wing in 1973, the 86th TFW performed that mission until 1994, deploying components to the middle east during the 1990 Gulf War.
On 14 August 1976, the Strategic Air Command 306th Strategic Wing was activated at Ramstein with a KC-135 air refueling and an RC-135 reconnaissance mission. The 306th also functioned as the focal point for all SAC operations in Europe, and as liaison between SAC and USAFE. The wing moved to RAF Mildenhall, England on 1 July 1978.
In June 1985, the 316th Air Division was activated, centralizing command authority at Ramstein. The 86 TFW became the division's flight operations arm, while the newly formed 377th Combat Support Wing, also activated in 1985, became responsible for the logistical and administrative support on base, replacing the 86th and 7030 Combat Support Wings.
On 28 August, 1988, Ramstein Air Base was the site of the tragic Ramstein airshow disaster, which killed 72 spectators and three pilots, and injured hundreds. The German metal band Rammstein is, in fact, named after the accident.
After the Cold War, the 86th was realigned to become an Airlift Wing, which it remains today. On 1 July 1993 the 55th Aeromedical Airlift Squadron moved from the 435th AW at Rhein-Main Air Base Germany to Ramstein. On 1 October, the 75th and 76th Airlift Squadron arrived at Ramstein from the 60th AW at Travis Air Force Base California, and 437th AW at Charleston AFB South Carolina, respectively. A year later on 1 October 1994, the 37th Airlift Squadron was transferred to Ramstein from Rhein-Main.
In 1999, the activation of the 86th Contingency Response Group (86 CRG) brought the airfield and aerial port operations and providing force protection at contingency airfields mission to the wing.
The 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing was activated on 4 Sep 2008. The wing is the headquarters for the existing 721st Air Mobility Operations Group at Ramstein and the 521st AMOG at Rota AB, Spain. The 521st AMOW provides an enhanced level of control for the AMC route structure in Europe, which includes critical locations for getting people, cargo and patients to and from current war zones.
On 7 March 1966, French President Charles De Gaulle announced that France would withdraw from NATO's integrated military structure. The United States was informed that it must remove its military forces from France by 1 April 1967.
As a result, the 26th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, based at Toul-Rosieres Air Base, France and two of its squadrons, the 38th and 32d, equipped with the RF-4C Phantom II was relocated to Ramstein on 5 October 1966.
Assigned squadrons of the 26th TRW at Ramstein were:
While at Ramstein the 26th TRW acquired a number of other units with different flying missions. One function gained by the 26 TRW, almost immediately after arriving at Ramstein, was the maintenance and flying of the HQ USAFE liaison aircraft. In addition, the Wing was responsible for flying members of the HQ USAFE staff to Air Force and NATO bases throughout Europe. In addition, the 26th TRW was only designated a flight, because of its small size. It consisted of a mixture of aircraft, including: T-29s, T-33s, T-39s, C-54s, O-2s, H-19s, and UH-1s.
In 1971 a detachment of the 435th Air Base Wing from Rhein-Main Air Base was assigned to Ramstein and a large cargo aerial port constructed. This allowed Military Airlift Command C-141 and C-5 Galaxy aircraft to use Ramstein as a transshipment point for material, which was then moved within USAFE by C-130 tactical transports.
In the spring of 1972, the 7th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) was assigned flying C-130Es, C-47As, and UH-1Ns. Because of the special operations mission of the 7 SOS, it reported directly to HQ USAFE for operational control.
As part of operation "Creek Action", a command-wide effort to realign functions and streamline operations, HQ USAFE transferred the 26th TRW from Ramstein to Zweibrucken Air Base, and the 86th Tactical Fighter Wing was reassigned from Zweibrucken to Ramstein on 31 January 1973