Dover AFB marks 75 years

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- From World War II to the Global War on Terrorism, Dover AFB’s rapid global mobility mission has been at the forefront of American military might.

Dec. 17, 2016, marks 75 years of American Air Power in Dover, Delaware.

Just 10 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Municipal Airport, Dover Airdrome, opened on Dec. 17, 1941, and was assigned to the 1st Air Force.

Through the war, the base underwent several name changes, from Municipal Airport, Dover Airdrome, to Dover Army Airbase, Dover Subbase, Dover Army Airfield, and finally in 1948, Dover Air Force Base.

"This base has gone from a small World War II coastal patrol base, which was looking for German U-Boats off the coast, to the strategic installation it is today," said Col. Ethan Griffin, 436th Airlift Wing commander. "Today, Dover's rapid global mobility capability means that our C-5s and C-17s deliver combat power anytime and anywhere."

Throughout its history, the base has seen a variety of missions, ranging from submarine defense, fighter training and rocket testing during World War II, to Dover AFB’s lasting and current mission, airlift. Notable major units assigned to Dover AFB include: the 45th Bombardment Group, the 312th Air Base Squadron, the 365th Fighter Group, the 83d Fighter Group, the 336th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, the 46th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, the 1607th Air Transportation Wing, the 98th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, the 4728th Air Defense Group, the 95th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron and the 912th Military Airlift Group.

Today, Dover AFB is home to a fleet of 18 C-5M Super Galaxy and 13 C-17 Globemaster III airlifters, operated jointly by the active-duty 436th AW since 1966, and the Reserve 512th AW since 1973. This represents 20 percent of the nation’s out-sized airlift capacity. These two wings have a combined total force strength of more than 11,000 individuals.

For decades, Dover AFB’s aircraft have delivered combat power and humanitarian relief to points all around the globe, from Vietnam and Afghanistan, to Haiti and Nepal.

"Since we moved down from Reading, Pennsylvania 43 years ago, the Liberty Wing has had the great fortune to be a part Dover AFB’s 75 years of excellence,” said Col. D. Scott Durham, 512th AW commander. “The 512th has an enduring and ever evolving partnership with the 436th that plays to each other's strengths. Together, we make an agile team that covers the full spectrum of operations which supports our nation's defense.”

In addition to the two airlift wings, the base is also home to several mission partners, to include: the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations, the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, and the Joint Personal Effects Depot. AFMAO is responsible for the base’s most well-known mission, returning America’s fallen heroes by a dignified transfer. Since opening in 1955, Dover AFB’s Port Mortuary has processed the remains of more than 58,000 service members. It has also processed the remains of victims from other countless major events, such as the Jonestown mass murder-suicide, the Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia, and military personnel killed in the September 11th terrorist attacks.

“How appropriate that America’s fallen heroes should come home to the place where what they fought for and the values they fought for were first ratified,” said Mayor of Dover Robin Christiansen.

Mayor Christiansen says this because the City of Dover is where the U.S. Constitution was first ratified in 1787, making Delaware the “First State.” In his words, “this is where America starts.”

“Those 30 people didn’t know if this was going to be a good form of government or this was the way to go,” said Christiansen. “But they believed and they had faith, just the way our Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines who raise their hands, who stick up for this country. It’s very appropriate that this is where they come home.”

Not only has Dover AFB had a national impact, it has had a lasting impact on the local community.

“[Dover AFB] has been an economic driver since the first day it got here,” said Christiansen. “It has created numerous jobs for local folks.”

Christiansen stated that the city of Dover would not have been as prosperous as it became if the base was never built.

“Dover became a melting pot for the fact that we had people coming in from the outside,” said Christiansen. “[The base] really changed the face and the character of Dover. It turned us from a little railroad stop town to the city that we have today and I’m really pleased that that happened.”

Currently, Dover AFB has an approximate $629.8 million economic impact on the local area.

“Dover Air Force Base is an integral part of the Dover community,” said Dawne Nickerson-Banez, 436th AW Public Affairs community engagement chief. “We are the fifth largest employer in the state of Delaware and our economic impact generates jobs and income to small businesses throughout the state. More than 1,100 residents of Delaware work on base.”

The mayor had a simple way to describe the relationship between the base and the city.

“Dover Air Force Base is Dover, and Dover is Dover Air Force Base,” Christiansen said.

The base has reiterated this with its actions.

“At Dover Air Force Base, we have embraced our community and brought them into programs such as the Honorary Commander Program and the Friends of Dover Program,” said Nickerson-Banez. “We open our doors to all civic leaders to understand more about our mission and then, they in turn go out and share our story with the community.”

Griffin echoes this.

"Over the past 75 years, Dover Air Force Base has been a vital part of the local community," said Griffin. "I am incredibly impressed with the strong relationship and partnership between our base and the Dover community."

Both Dover and Dover AFB plan on working hand-in-hand into the future.

“We are proud to have played a great part in [the base] over the past 75 years,” said Christiansen. “We look forward to another 100 years.”