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Rhein-Main still ticking as closure looms nears

by Louis A. Arana-Barradas
Air Force Print News

8/12/2005 - RHEIN-MAIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Though this base’s mission ends Oct. 1, its people are still doing what made it the Air Force’s premier airlift hub in Europe -- airlift support.

The base, which shares runways with Frankfurt International Airport, has been drawing down since 1999 for its December closure. Its landmass has already shrunk to half its original size and many base activities have closed.

But the base’s airlift mission is almost “as big as it has always been,” said Paul Molnar, Rhein-Main’s closure and host nation liaison officer.

Rhein-Main is still a critical strategic base in the war on terrorism, said Lt. Col. Mike Polhemus, 726th Air Mobility Squadron commander. The Air Mobility Command unit runs base flight operations.

Since September 2004, for example, the base has recovered, turned and launched more than 55,000 aircraft and handled more than 2.1 million passengers, the colonel said. Today, it still handles 25 to 30 daily airlift missions and 30,000 to 40,000 passengers a month.

That is why, the colonel said, “We have to keep going until the rest of the organizations in Europe are ready to pick up the load.”

Still, drawing down is now the main job here. And as the base continues its drawdown, its hectic airlift mission -- which dates back to 1945 -- has slowed. Many transport aircraft now land at Ramstein and Spangdahlem air bases. The two bases, in other parts of Germany, will assume the Rhein-Main airlift workload Oct. 1.

With just five months before closing its gates, base workers are busy closing down. But the drawdown plan takes the mission into consideration, said Col. Brad Denison, 469th Air Base Group and base commander. The drawdown plan ties “capabilities to the closure,” he said.

“We want to maintain the capability (to support airlift) until the planned time (for closure) so we can continue to support the mission,” Colonel Denison said. He expects that to last until the last moment, the day the mission closes.

The base drawdown plan has three major timeline goals. The first, which took place July 1, was transition day, or T-Day. It started the curtailment of the base airlift support mission. On M-Day, the mission will actually end Oct. 1, and the closure date -- C-Day -- is the day the base will close for good and is given back to the German government. The agreement between the German and United States puts the closure date at no later than Dec. 31.

But the base closure team has set Dec. 16 as the goal for the actual closing -- “the day we hand over the keys,” Colonel Denison said.

The closing ceremony, however, will take place Oct. 10. The colonel said it will be “a very big event.”

As the base draws down along its specific timeline, sights are already set on the critical days between Oct. 1 and closing day. During that short period, activity here will move at a fever pitch, said Maj. Shawn Moore, 469th Civil Engineer Flight commander. His team of 35 active-duty Airmen, guardsmen, reservists, civilians, local nationals and contract employees will be the ones “who make C-Day happen,” he said.

From now through December, the civil engineers must close the 196 buildings still in use here. Of those, people still occupy 177. That means about 62 percent of base buildings are already in the hands of the German government and Frankfurt Airport Authority, partners in the drawdown venture. Early turnovers have put the team a bit ahead of schedule, the major said.

However, during the last three months the work pace will be hectic. During that time, the base must turn over the remaining buildings which the major expects to be around 130. That equates to about two a day.

The last remaining days “will be the shortest timeframe ever in the history of any (Air Force) base closure” for turning over so many buildings, Major Moore said.

“To try and close a base in such a short period of time is a true testament to our commitment to the Air Force and the global war on terrorism,” he said.

Buildings must be in “broom-swept condition” for the turnover.

“The building has to work -- electricity, lights, plumbing, water,” Major Moore said. “So we clear it out. We take a building and ‘shake it upside down.’ Anything that’s loose comes out.”

The Germans will receive a building with everything except the Air Force’s special equipment.

“We turn it over safe, sanitary and secure -- that’s our motto,” Major Moore said.

As if all that was not enough to keep people busy, Colonel Denison has tasked the drawdown team with another key responsibility. He wants what he calls a “graceful drawdown.” That is, base officials want to keep the quality of life as high as possible.

“We want to keep families happy and make sure we’re not going to shortchange them in any way,” the colonel said. “And as far as our military people, we’ll make sure they get the best assignments possible.”

In the end, Colonel Denison said, “When we walk away from Rhein-Main in December 2005, we can be proud of what we’ve done, and that we’ve accomplished the mission.”

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