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The resurrection of Tactical Air Command and Military Airlift Command.

September 26 and October 1, 2016 were very historic dates in the history of the Air Force. After more than 24 years, Tactical Air Command and Military Airlift Command, two of the most historic of the Air Force's major commands, became active again. This is the story of how they went away, and how they came back.

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In the summer of 1992, as the Cold War ended, the leadership of the United States Air Force undertook an organizational revolution, to streamline itself and to save federal dollars. It inactivated five of its major commands: Strategic Air Command (SAC), Tactical Air Command (TAC), Military Airlift Command (MAC), Air Force Logistics Command (AFLC), and Air Force Systems Command (AFSC). In their places, it activated three new major commands: Air Combat Command (ACC), Air Mobility Command (AMC), and Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC).

The three new commands were not redesignations of any of the five commands they replaced. They were starting from scratch in 1992, with no years of service and no honors. While they had some of the same personnel, aircraft, bases and functions of the old commands, they were not lineally connected with any of them. All five of the inactivating major commands, each with more than 40 years of active service, was placed on the shelf, with the possibility that one day the Air Force might activate them again.

The inactivations and activations came in two stages. First, Strategic Air Command, Tactical Air Command, and Military Airlift Command were inactivated on Jun 1, 1992, while Air Combat Command and Air Mobility Command were activated. Air Combat Command received the fighters of Tactical Air Command and the bombers and missiles of Strategic Air Command, while Air Mobility Command received the transports of Military Airlift Command and the tankers of Strategic Air Command. One month later, Air Force Logistics Command and Air Force Systems Command were inactivated, while Air Force Materiel Command was activated. Air Force Materiel Command assumed the functions of the two inactivating commands, but the new command was not the redesignation of either of them.

The revolutionary changes of 1992 had merits. By dropping five major commands and establishing three new ones to take over their functions, the Air Force reduced its number of major commands by two. The move was expected to improve the administration of the Air Force and to save enormous amounts of money. But there was a problem in the transition.

Although Air Combat Command had absorbed resources and functions of Strategic Air Command and Tactical Air Command, it was not a redesignation of either. Still, it was inexplicably directed to use the emblem of Tactical Air Command, as if it were the Tactical Air Command transformed into the Air Combat Command. If that is what the leadership wanted, it could have merely redesignated Tactical Air Command as Air Combat Command, instead of ending the first and starting the second. From a lineage and honors history perspective, Tactical Air Command had no connection with Air Combat Command, despite their use of the same emblem.

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The same problem emerged with Air Mobility Command. Although it had absorbed resources and functions of Strategic Air Command and Military Airlift Command, and had no lineal connection with either of those inactivated commands, it was directed to use the emblem of Military Airlift Command, as if it were the Military Airlift Command transformed into the Air Mobility Command. If that is what the leadership wanted, it could have merely redesignated Military Airlift Command as Air Mobility Command, instead of ending the first and starting the second. From a lineage and honors perspective, Military Airlift Command had no connection with Air Mobility Command, despite their use of the same emblem.

There should have been two options. One was to let the new commands have new emblems, since they were not redesignations of the old commands whose emblems they got, but brand new commands with no previous heritage. The other option was to simply redesignate Tactical Air Command as Air Combat Command and Military Airlift Command as Air Mobility Command. There was reason not to go that way. Strategic Air Command would have been the only one of the three major commands to be inactivated on June 1, 1992. No one wanted to offend the veterans of Strategic Air Command by keeping Tactical Air Command and Military Airlift Command, even if they were redesignated under different names. If SAC was going away, TAC and MAC were also going away.

What happened instead was a sort of cross between the two alternatives. The Air Force leadership did not favor Tactical Air Command and Military Airlift Command over Strategic Air Command, so it inactivated all three of them. Yet by directing Air Combat Command to use the Tactical Air Command emblem and Air Mobility Command to use the Military Airlift Command emblem the Air Force leadership inadvertently made it appear that the Air Force was discarding only Strategic Air Command on June 1, 1992.

Why did Gen. Merrill McPeak, then Chief of Staff of the Air Force, allow the new Air Combat Command to use the emblem of Tactical Air Command when it was not the redesignated Tactical Air Command but a new command not lineally connected with the old one? Perhaps it was because the last commander of Tactical Air Command, Gen. John Michael Loh, became the first commander of Air Combat Command, and he wanted to keep the same emblem, since the headquarters would be in the same place, and a new emblem would be costly. Why did General McPeak allow the new Air Mobility Command to use the emblem of the Military Airlift Command when it was not the redesignated Military Airlift Command but a new command not lineally connected with the old one? Perhaps it was because the last commander of the Military Airlift Command, Gen. Hansford T. Johnson, became the first commander of Air Mobility Command, and he wanted to keep the same emblem, since the headquarters would be in the same place, and a new emblem would be costly. When Strategic Air Command was inactivated, its last commander was Gen. George Lee Butler, who became the first commander of a new joint Strategic Command. Not surprisingly, the new emblem of the Strategic Command looked much like the old emblem of Strategic Air Command, although it was not strictly identical. Apparently, McPeak wanted the last commanders of TAC, MAC, and SAC, who were the first commanders of ACC, AMC, and STRATCOM, to keep their old emblems, despite the fact that the new commands were not the old ones.

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A month later, the same mistake was made. Air Force Materiel Command might have inherited the functions of Air Force Systems Command and Air Force Logistics Command, but it was a new organization entirely. Both Air Force Systems Command and Air Force Logistics Command were inactivated on July 1, 1992, while Air Force Materiel Command was activated, but Air Force Materiel Command was directed to use the emblem of the Air Force Logistics Command, which made it appear that Air Force Logistics Command was remaining active while Air Force Systems Command was going away. If Air Force Material Command was not the redesignation of either Air Force Logistics Command nor of Air Force Systems Command, but an entirely new command starting from scratch, it should have had its own emblem. The alternative would have been to simply redesignate Air Force Logistics Command as Air Force Materiel Command, since the emblem of one was to be the emblem of the other. But that would have meant choosing Air Force Logistics Command over Air Force Systems Command, and the Air Force did not want to do that. As a result, it inactivated both of the commands whose functions were being taken over by the new Air Force Materiel Command. Despite the Air Force's intent not to choose one of the older commands over the other, that is exactly what appeared to have happened when Air Force Materiel Command was directed to use the emblem of Air Force Logistics Command.

How [Tactical Air Command and Military Airlift Command]... went away, and how they came back

Air Force Materiel Command was not a merger of the two older commands. Air Force Logistics Command and Air Force Systems Command could not be consolidated, since they had been active at the same time. Either a choice had to be made between them, or both had to go away as Air Force Materiel Command was activated. Some in Air Force Material Command might have thought their command was a combination of Air Force Logistics Command and Air Force Systems Command, since it assumed the functions and resources of both, but in an organizational sense, it was neither. Despite that fact, Air Force Materiel Command began with the emblem of the inactivated Air Force Logistics Command, suggesting that Air Force Logistics Command had been renamed as Air Force Materiel Command.

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The use of the emblem of one organization by another organization violated heraldic policy, yet that is what was happening. In three cases, one command was using the emblem of another command with which it had no lineal connection. One way to correct the error was to consolidate Tactical Air Command with Air Combat Command, Military Airlift Command with Air Mobility Command, and Air Force Logistics Command with Air Force Materiel Command. That would involve the merger of three pairs of major commands. Such a move would justify Air Combat Command's use of the Tactical Air Command emblem, Air Mobility Command's use of the Military Airlift Command's emblem, and Air Force Materiel Command's use of the Air Force Logistics Command emblem. No one wanted to do that at first, for fear of offending the veterans of the other commands inactivated in 1992: Strategic Air Command and Air Force Systems Command.

In 2009, the story changed. Strategic Air Command, which had been inactivated in 1992, was redesignated as Air Force Global Strike Command and activated again. It eventually got back the bombers and missiles it had at first lost to Air Combat Command, if not the tankers it had lost to Air Mobility Command. With Strategic Air Command back, there was no longer any reason to not bring back Tactical Air Command and Military Airlift Command too, by consolidating them with Air Combat Command and Air Mobility Command respectively.

After the return of Strategic Air Command as Air Force Global Strike Command, historians at the Air Force Historical Research Agency, recommended the consolidation of Tactical Air Command with Air Combat Command and Military Airlift Command with Air Mobility Command. In each case, consolidation would in effect merge two commands into one. There were five good reasons to do so:

1. The consolidations would justify the Air Combat Command's use of the Tactical Air Command emblem and Air Mobility Command's use of the Military Airlift Command's emblem.

2. The consolidations would increase the years of service of both Air Combat Command and Air Mobility Command by more than 40 years, allowing them to trace their heritages back to the 1940s instead of only back to 1992.

3. The consolidations would increase the number of honors of Air Combat Command and Air Mobility Command by giving them also the honors of the older commands that would be merging with them.

4. The missions of Tactical Air Command and Air Combat Command were similar, if not identical, and the missions of Military Airlift Command and Air Mobility Command were also similar, even if the former did not have tankers.

5. Because Strategic Air Command was back, there was every reason to also bring back Tactical Air Command and Military Airlift Command.

Although it took seven more years for the consolidations to go forward, they happened in one crucial week in 2016. Between September 26 and October 1, Tactical Air Command was consolidated with Air Combat Command and Military Airlift Command was consolidated with Air Mobility Command. The mergers of the two pairs of commands has all advantages and no disadvantages. Bringing back Tactical Air Command and Military Airlift Command not only greatly enhances the heritages of Air Combat Command and Air Mobility Command, but also the heritage of the Air Force. We should rejoice that the Tactical Air Command and Military Airlift Command, both of which died in 1992, are alive again in Air Combat Command and Air Mobility Command. The heritage of the Air Force is enhanced, at no cost.

Daniel L. Haulman is Chief, Organizational Histories, at the Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell AFB, Ala. After earning a BA from the University of Southwestern Louisiana and an ME (Master of Education) from the University of New Orleans, he earned a Ph.D. in history from Auburn University. Dr. Haulman has authored several books, including Air Force Aerial Victory Credits, The USAF and Humanitarian Airlift Operations, and One Hundred Years of Flight: USAF Chronology of Significant Air and Space Events, 1903-2002. He has written several pamphlets, composed sections of several other USAF publications, and compiled the list of official USAF aerial victories appearing on the AFHRAs web page. He wrote the Air Force chapter in supplement IV of A Guide to the Sources of United States Military History and completed six studies on aspects of recent USAF operations that have been used by the Air Staff and Air University. He has also written a chapter in Locating Air Force Base Sites: History's Legacy, a book about the location of Air Force bases. The author of twenty-eight published articles in various journals, Dr. Haulman has presented more than twenty historical papers at historical conferences and taught history courses at Huntingdon College, Auburn University at Montgomery, and Faulkner University. He co-authored, with Joseph Caver and Jerome Ennels, the book The Tuskegee Airmen: An Illustrated History, published by New South Books in 2011.
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Author:Haulman, Daniel L.
Publication:Air Power History
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2017
Words:2317
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