Ramstein Air Base
Ramstein, the largest US Air Force base in Germany, is not only the headquarters of the United States Air Forces Europe, but also the central airlift hub for the European Theater and a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) installation.
As the headquarters it exercises day-to-day command and control over all USAFE units from Great Britain to Turkey. As the airlift hub it operates a gigantic passenger terminal to rival the ones at commercial airports. And it soon is to be the home of a huge shopping/community center, right across the street from the new passenger center.
The base, located in the federal state of Rheinland-Pfalz, opened in 1952 following construction under the provisions of a reciprocal agreement with France, which was then the occupying authority in this part of Germany.
Rheinland-Pfalz, in the southwest corner of Germany, is the country's main wine growing region and also the location of its largest unbroken stretch of forest, the Pfalzerwald.
The air base is part of the Kaiserslautern Military Community (KMC), home of more than 52,000 Americans and the largest American community outside of the U.S. Ramstein, Kapaun and Sembach are the predominately Air Force communities within KMC. Other elements, mainly Army, are Vogelweh, Kleber, Panzer, Daenner, Miesau, Pirmasens, Rhine Ordnance Barracks and the Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center.
As a NATO installation, Ramstein has Canadian, German, British, French, Belgian, Polish, Czech, Norwegian, Danish and Dutch military personnel in addition to the Americans.
The base's beginnings are colorful. Its construction came as no surprise to the local inhabitants who were no strangers to airpower. The Luftwaffe had converted a section of the local autobahn into an airstrip at the beginning of World War II. The airstrip was also used by the advancing U.S. Army Air Forces during the final months of the conflict.
When it opened in 1952, the base served as the home for the 86th Fighter-Bomber Wing and its fleet of F-84F Thunderstreaks. For a while Ramstein was headquarters of the Seventeenth Air Force, but that headquarters moved to nearby Sembach Air Base in 1972 to make room for United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) Headquarters, which moved to Ramstein AB from Lindsay Air Station, Wiesbaden. Ramstein had a major change of mission in 1994, when it switched roles from a fighter base to an airlift one.
The handling of passengers and cargo switched there from Rhein Main Air Base, making necessary the construction of the new passenger terminal. Features of it include automated luggage handling and passenger bridges for boarding planes right from the terminal. It also has air conditioning, dining and shopping facilities, a children's play area and a TV lounge.
And it is right across the street from the Kaiserslautern Military Community Center (KMCC) project, now under construction. This spectacular facility will provide a 350-room hotel and entertainment, recreation, banking and travel services for base personnel and their families. It will also be the location of the largest Exchange (BX/PX) ever sponsored by the Army Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES).
The host unit at Ramstein is the 86th Airlift Wing, whose commander also serves as the Kaiserslautern Military Community commander. Also residing at Ramstein is the 435th Air Base Wing, which focuses on base-support responsibilities within the KMC.
Ramstein offers facilities that are comparable to a stateside community in many ways.
There are 11 schools in the Kaiserslautern Military Community, making it the largest American school system outside the Continental United States. Ramstein has an Elementary School (K-3), Intermediate School (4-6), Junior High School (7-9) and High School (10-12).
All schools are located near government housing areas. The school your children attend will depend on where you live, not where you work. Students who live on base walk to school; all others ride the bus. School bus transportation is provided by government contracted buses. It is recommended that before you rent quarters on the economy you check with the housing office to determine if the residence is along an established school bus route.
Although many medical specialties are available at Ramstein, all in-patient care is at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (15 minutes away). A clinic provides dental care for non-flying military members and their families. Dental care for family members is limited because of space limits and the needs of the active duty population.
Child Development Services provides full service, center-based child care, and Youth Services operates a sports and fitness program for organized seasonal sports such as football, soccer, baseball, softball, basketball, swimming and cheerleading. The Ramstein-Vogelweh-Sembach Youth Activities Program is the largest in Europe, offering sports, dances, tours, birthday parties, games, tournaments and crafts.
Religious services, religious education programs, support facilities and crisis intervention centers are offered in convenient locations, and there are active scouting programs for girls and boys.
American Red Cross offices provide an Emergency Communications Service 24/7/365 for active duty, family members and civilians and their families. Red Cross messages pertaining to illness, death or other emergency situations regarding immediate family are provided to assist all concerned in making informed and timely decisions. Red Cross also provides classes in first aid, CPR and babysitting. There are also volunteer opportunities.
Opportunities for recreation are boundless. Ramstein's Woodlawn Golf Course is an 18-hole championship course that ranks with the very best in Germany, and membership rates are reasonable. Sports enthusiasts have two Fitness Centers, each with a basketball court, weight lifting rooms, saunas, locker and shower facilities for men and women and racquetball courts.
A full range of intramural and base-level sports programs are offered. The Outdoor Recreation Center can supply camping, picnic and backpacking equipment, downhill and cross-country skis, auto carrying devices and various winter items throughout the year. Annual events include a sanctioned Volksmarsch and a family bike rally. Water sports, skiing, bicycling, canoe trips, horseback riding, rock climbing and castle hikes are a few of the other programs available.
Ski gear is available at discount prices during the season through the Ramstein Sport Center and the Ski Club is very active, with trips during the season to Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France and the Edelweiss Lodge and Resort.
Ramstein has indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and there is a modern bowling center with multiple-lane facilities, pro shops, snack bars, game rooms and conference rooms.
First-class community centers offer a relaxed atmosphere featuring tournaments in pool, table tennis and chess, special events, television rooms and much more. Musical equipment, games and other items can also be checked out for use in the centers. Concert tickets are sold and one-day tours are also organized. The worldwide United Service Organization also sells tickets to concerts and other special events in and around Germany.
Ramstein's Exchange and Commissary are among the largest in Europe. The exchange has a good selection of housewares, electronics, toys/games, gardening and sporting goods, and operates numerous facilities, including a gas station and movie theaters.
In addition to many excellent local restaurants, pubs and cafes in the local area, there are also U.S. franchises where U.S. currency is accepted. Places like Burger King, Popeye's Chicken and Robin Hood have full product line menus and opportunities for family member employment.
Good as they are, the present Ramstein facilities pale in comparison with what is planned. A huge shopping mall three times the size any existing AAFES-Europe facility is being constructed across from the new Air Passenger Center.
Excellent libraries provide invaluable, modern resources to students of all ages and levels, including research material for several masters degree programs and Internet access. Some libraries have a video library as well.
Military clubs offer fine dining, an assortment of snacks, live entertainment, excellent brunches, karaoke bars, wide-screen televisions, unit and group nights, plus many other programs and activities. Ramstein has an Officer's Club and an NCO Club.
There are four Music and Movie Stores in the KMC area, offering the latest music releases, from country to classical, the newest movie releases for rent and a complete line of electronic equipment. Ramstein has two movie theaters and two music and theater locations.
A variety of military television channels are available to personnel. (See the separate article on AFN.) Those living on base usually get the programs via cable, but those living off base, even at considerable distance, can get them via satellite with a decoder. There is also a great deal of English-langague commercial television in the area, provided by TKS.
Military postal services are offered in APOs in several locations and mailing letters or small packages between European APOs is free. Community banks offer full service banking. Automatic teller machines (ATMs) located throughout the area offer 24-hour service for deposits and withdrawals from both checking and savings accounts.
The Auto Craft Shops offer assistance in performing automotive maintenance and repair. Equipment, tools and trained mechanics make everything, from charging a battery to major overhauls, possible at great cost savings.