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Wing

The basic unit for generating and employing combat capability is the wing, and some very significant changes have taken place at this level. The wing has always been the prime war fighting instrument. With the divestiture of several headquarters staff functions in 1991, the wing assumed a more important role in the way the Air Force conducts business in both peace and war.

In 1991 the Air Force moved away from "stovepipe" organizations which report off-base to some authority other than the installation commander. Communications and weather personnel now work for the installation commander rather than a higher and distant command. With these changes, the chain of command is strengthened and accountability for mission accomplishment clarified.

In 1991 several wings became composite wings, meaning that they operate more than one kind of aircraft. The 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews AFB, Md., operates Air Force One as well as VC-137s, C-9s and C-20s. As such, it is a composite wing. At Seymour Johnson AFB, NC, the 4th Wing operates KC-10s and F-15Es, so it also is a composite wing. The same kind of consolidation happened at Kadena AB in Japan. Some wings have been composite for a long time while others were newly formed. The 51st Wing at Osan AB, Korea, has had multiple fighter types for many years, so it has been a composite wing for some time. Conversely, the unit at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, was a newly constructed composite wing where F-15C/Ds, F-15Es, tankers, AWACS and others formed a unit designed for quick air intervention anywhere in the world. At Pope AFB, NC, the Air Force assembled a wing of A-10s, F-16s and C-130s to train with the Army at nearby Fort Bragg. This wing formed a team with the 82nd Airborne Division.

In the restructured Air Force, not all wings became composite. Some, such as the F-16 wing at Hill AFB, Utah, retained single aircraft type ready to join air campaigns anywhere they are assigned.

Whether a unit is composite or not, there is one basic rule, for wing reorganization: one base, one wing, one boss. The installation commander commands the wing, the base and all the local resources associated with it. This was the principle behind the combination of the KC-10 and F-15 wings at Seymour Johnson. It was also the reason for combining the 1776th Air Base Wing with the both Wing at Andrews.

The level of experience and rank of the installation commander should reflect this. After the reorganization, many more installations had a general officer in charge. To do this and still meet a mandated general officer reduction, a large number of generals moved from staff jobs into the field. Most senior officer "deputy" or "vice" jobs were eliminated, and the same was true for the lower ranks as well. Some positions such as wing commander still had a vice commander, but that type of second-in-command position was more and more rare. The wing also implemented the skip-echelon staff structure that starts at the MAJCOM level. The wing commander assumed a heavy administrative burden and the staff to handle it.

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