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Sixty Years and Counting...

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Phil Wendzillo
The National Guard has its roots in the farmers, fishermen, shopkeepers, and merchants that took up arms to defend the Massachusetts Bay Colony 370 years ago. It began a long, proud history of the concept of a citizen-soldier who, as an American fighting man (or woman) would become vital to the defense of our great nation.

Although the militia was a vital part of our nation's defense during several important conflicts including the American Revolutionary War, it was in 1903 that Senator Charles Dick, a Major General in the Ohio National Guard, introduced legislation that would formally give federal recognition status to the state militia.

Over the next few decades, as air power developed into a vital component of our nations defense systems, the Air National Guard began to take shape. At the end of World War II, there were approximately 60,000 Guardsman whose primary mission was air power. When the Great War ended, it was obvious that Air Power would be the focal point of future conflicts. In 1946, the process to form an independent separate service was formulated. The National Security Act, signed on July 26, 1947 created the Department of the Air Force.

Eight weeks later, when W. Stuart Symington became the first Secretary of the Air Force, the Air Force was official. Although a separate National Guard aviation program began to emerge in 1946 as individual units obtained federal recognition, the Air Guard's official birth date was 18 September 1947, the same day the Air Force became a separate service.

The 174th Fighter Squadron was formed in Sioux City, IA on December 2, 1946. It became an official part of the Air National Guard and flew P-51 Mustangs beginning in 1947. For over 50 years, the 185th Fighter Wing flew single-engine jets as part of our national defense system.

Over the years, it consistently performed above and beyond accepted standards, winning the Spaatz Trophy as the nation's top Air National Guard unit in both 1956 and 1990. The unit served admirably in several conflicts including Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm. The 185th also made national headlines with their life-saving efforts in 1989 (Flight 232).

Since the turn of the century, the unit has continued to contribute to the nation's defense. On September 11, 2001, during the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, two 185th F-16s flew cover for Air Force One as President Bush was hustled back to the White House from Offutt Air Force Base.

In 2003, the 185th transitioned to Air Refueling Tankers and was designated the 185th Air Refueling Wing. For the first time in over 55 years, the unit would not be flying single-engine jets. However, the excellence would continue. The 185th once again stepped up. In 2005 they provided relief efforts during Hurricane Katrina, a vicious storm that devastated the New Orleans area.

As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the 185th as well as the Air National Guard, we can take a moment to look back with pride in serving a nation with honor, dignity, and commitment. The accomplishments of the 185th are well known to many in a unit that has always had a tremendous community involvement. It is unit whose traditions often include family members following in the footsteps of their dads, moms, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters and cousins.

In the spirit of appreciation that has always focused on selfless service, community involvement, and family, several events will take place in the coming months to celebrate these attributes. In August, the 185th had a family day highlighted by a change in command ceremony. Colonel John Janson is retired, after serving as Wing Commander for 6 years - the 3rd longest tenure as Wing Commander in the storied history of the 185th.

On August 5th, an open house celebrated our 60th anniversary. Several static displays were on hand as well as tours as the 185th Air Refueling Wing welcoming in the community that has supported the 185th so well over the years.

The 185th Air Refueling Wing looks forward to the new challenges ahead, building upon a past of quality, excellence, and outstanding service. But, it would not have been possible without all the men, women, families, and community that have both supported and sacrificed for the unit over these past 60 years. To you and our sincerest thanks.

Timeline of significant events:
1636: First militia defends Massachusetts Bay Colony
1903: Dick Act - Official formalizes National Guard under Federal Guidelines
1907: Army establishes first Signal Corps - a forerunner of the Air Force
1909: 1LT Frank Lahm and 1LT Ben Foulois make their first ascent in a dirigible at Ft. Omaha, NE; thereby becoming the 1st pilots of the Air Services.
1913: Captain Charles Chandler becomes commander of the 1st Aero Squadron, the 1st military unit devoted strictly to aviation. It remains active today as the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron.
1914: President signs bill creating aviation section of Signal Corps to supervise all military aircraft.
1916: Assigned a role in the Punitive Expedition on the Mexican Boarder, becoming the 1st aerial combat unit.
1917: America enters World War I
1920: Army Reorganization Act makes Air Service a combative unit of the Army.
1926: Air Service changes name to Air Corps.
1939: Congress approves $300 million for expansion of aircraft for European War. Air Corps contains 26,500 men and 2200 aircraft.
1941: America enters World War II.
1945: World War II ends; Air Corps is comprised of 2,253,000 men and 63,715 air craft; numbers exponentially greater than only 6 years ago.
1946: 174th Fighter Squadron is formed in Sioux City, IA and extended federal recognition status. It has 16 officers and 46 enlisted members.
1947: Air Force is created
1956: Unit receives Spaatz Trophy as Best Air Guard unit in the country
1968: 185th activated for Vietnam.
1989: 185th received national recognition for its response to crippled United Aircraft, Flight 232.
1990: Unit wins Spaatz Trophy for second time.
1991: Unit begins flying F-16s.
2001: 185th Planes fly air support for Air Force One in response to tragedies of 9/11.
2002: Final flight of the F-16s ending the jet era for the 185th.
2003: Unit is re-designated 185th Air Refueling Wing
2006: 185th is 60 years old.
2007: Air Force celebrates 60th birthday.