General Laurence S. Kuter served for 35 years as an officer of the Army, the Army Air Forces, and finally the United States Air Force. He was intimately involved in airlift during the period between 1945 and 1951, although he remained vitally interested in airlift and served as one of its most forceful and distinguished advocates for the remainder of his career. General Kuter commanded the Atlantic Division of the Army Air Forces’ World War II Air Transport Command (ATC) in 1945. During his short tenure in this position, General Kuter consolidated resources from several of ATC’s wartime divisions into a new Atlantic Division, made responsible for providing point-to-point airlift service between the United States and Europe, Africa and the Middle East. This organization, with minor refinements, is the Military Airlift Command’s present-day Twenty-First Air Force. His influence, therefore, has been of lasting importance to military airlift.
In 1946 General Kuter was appointed by Presidential Order as the United States representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), with the diplomatic rank of minister. This organization was responsible for developing and implementing international agreements for overflight rights, landing procedures and privileges, overseas basing, and a host of other civil and military issues applicable to international air transport.
General Kuter left this post on 1 March 1948 to head up the effort to consolidate the Air Force and Navy airlift assets into a single operating command. On 1 June 1948 the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) was activated with headquarters at Andrews AFB, DC, and with assets assigned from ATC and the Naval Air Transport Service. This was, essentially, the first experimentation with what is now referred to as a unified command. General Kuter’s Vice Commander was the Navy’s Rear Admiral John P. Whitney, and the new command included both Air Force and Navy components which each operated as autonomous entities under the Commander. Under General Kuter’s direction, MATS defined and interpreted its role and mission within the Department of Defense, developed and refined its operational procedures, and worked toward the consolidation of all airlift assets. Finally, during General Kuter’s command, MATS executed several contingency missions: its resources and personnel took over responsibility for the Berlin Airlift Task Force beginning on 29 July 1948 and directed this crucial operation until its successful conclusion more than a year later. Under General Kuter’s leadership MATS also developed and managed a 12,000-mile logistical pipeline between the United States and Asia at the outbreak of hostilities in Korea in June 1950.
General Kuter’s leadership, vision and direction while MATS Commander was especially important in the years 1948-1951, because it set the course followed by MATS/MAC down to the present.