F-16 unit moves to next chapter of distinguished history

Two F-16 aircraft, one in the unit’s 75th anniversary color scheme, prepare for their final flight as part of the 147th Fighter Wing. (Texas Military Forces photo by Chief Master Sgt. Gonda Moncada)

Two F-16 aircraft, one in the unit’s 75th anniversary color scheme, prepare for their final flight as part of the 147th Fighter Wing. (Texas Military Forces photo by Chief Master Sgt. Gonda Moncada)

ELLINGTON FIELD, Texas -- The 147th Fighter Wing stood in formation and enjoyed the breeze on their faces here June 7, while they observed the casing of the old guidon and unfurling of the new in a ceremony taking them on a new journey.

The 147th marked this day in history when it ceremoniously sent off the last of its F-16 aircraft to make room for the MQ-1 Predator and a new name - the 147th Reconnaissance Wing.

"On behalf of Commander [Col.] Lanny B. McNeely and the men and women of the 147th Fighter Wing, welcome to a historic milestone in the transition of our unit," said Chief Master Sgt. Marlon Nation. "Today's ceremony continues a long and rich history of our service to this community, commitment to our state, and dedication to the values, ideals and protection of our country."

He told the audience of the many aircraft flown by the 147th and the missions it supported:

Formed in 1917 as the 111th Aero Squadron, the unit became the 111th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron during World War II, patrolled the Gulf Coast for German submarines, then flew 3,840 combat missions.

In 1950 the unit served in the Korean War, flying close air support and interdiction missions destroying 3,000 targets, including two MiG-15 fighters, the first Air National Guard unit to do so.

In 1956 the Ace-In-the-Hole Squadron, as the unit is affectionately called, moved to Ellington Field, and in 1958 the 147th Fighter Interceptor Squadron was formed and almost immediately placed on 24-hour alert guarding America's skies.

From 1968 through 1970, the unit served in Vietnam and Thailand and in 1968 started training Air National Guard F-102 pilots. One of those pilots, of course, became president of the United States, then Lt. George W. Bush.

In September 2000 the first Air Expeditionary Forces deployed to Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, during Operation Southern Watch. On Sept. 11, a day no one alive at the time will ever forget, four 111th Fighter Squadron aircraft escorted President Bush onboard Air Force One.

In August 2005 members of the unit deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During repeated deployments since then, the unit has remained on 24-hour alert and passed every inspection.

During the 90 years of flying history, the unit flew the Curtiss JN-4 Jenny, Douglas 2C, Stinson 49, Curtis 52, A-20, P-39, Allison P-51, F-84 Thunderjet, F-15 Mustang, T-6 Texan, F-80, T-33, F-86, F-102, F-101, F-4 Phantom, C-26 Merlin, F-16A and C and now the MQ-1 Predator Unmanned Aerial System (UAS).

During 54 years of being on alert status, the unit worked in concert with the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), now the North American Aerospace Defense Command. The current deputy commander of NORAD, Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, delivered a few brief remarks at Saturday's event.

Then came the moment everybody had been waiting for and, as Chief Nation explained jokingly, "had feared the most because of its split-second timing during the presentation." Four F-16s thundered overhead. They approached in joint formation, two jets from the 147th and two from Oklahoma's 138th Fighter Wing. While the two 138th jets circled and landed at Ellington to take over the mission, the 147th jets climbed up and away to symbolize the end of the 147th Fighter Wing.

"Colonel McNeely, Chief Leger, you are now the commander and chief of the 147th Reconnaissance Wing," Chief Nation said. "We are the 147th Reconnaissance Wing. 'Fighter' may not be in our name, but 'fighter' will always be in our hearts, for we proudly continue to fight in this new age of Global War on Terrorism with the new tools this kind of war has called on us to bring to the battlefield."

After these words, the new guidon was presented to the men and women standing in formation, and the MQ-1 Predator was introduced as the 28th air frame to be flown by the unit.

Lt. Gen. Craig R. McKinley, Air National Guard director, congratulated the 147th for its many accomplishments, and Colonel McNeely spoke of a new era in the capable hands of the men and women of the 147th.

Brig. Gen. Donald Harvel, Texas Air National Guard commander, said: "On June 7, 2008, a chapter about the 147th Fighter Wing was closed and a new chapter about the 147th Reconnaissance Wing was opened. I am very proud of the men and women of the 147th Reconnaissance Wing for their tremendous service and hard work to transform into a wing and mission that will serve our state and nation for many years. We all look forward to celebrating the unit's 100 years of dedicated aviation service to our great nation in less than 10 years from now."

One of the many visitors was Bob Kjar, president of Air Force Association's San Jacinto Chapter. He said he could not get the theme music from "Somewhere in Time" out of his mind although that movie was totally unrelated to the military other than to reflect on a bygone era.

"I watched today another mind meld with past, present and future," Mr. Kjar said. "These great men and women and their leaders in thoughts and speeches reflecting on what has gone on before and what is in store for the future. I watched old warriors of the 147th stand proudly with teary eyes as the old flag was cased and the new one unfurled. It was a historic moment to be relished for past achievements for future challenges."

Others among the many family members and friends there to honor the men and women of the 147th were: U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson; state Rep. Randy Weber; Lt. Gen. (TX) Charles G. Rodriguez, Adjutant General of Texas; Maj. Gen. Stephen Best, commander of the 75th U.S. Army Reserve Division, U.S. Army Reserves,;Maj. Gen. Allen R. Dehnert, Texas Air National Guard commander; Brig. Gen. Edward Arntson, 75th Army Division deputy commander; Brig. Gen. Don Harvel, Texas Air National Guard deputy commander; Brig. Gen (Select) Jeffrey Lofgren, 1st Air Force vice commander; Col. Joseph Lengyel, Air National Guard Readiness Center commander; Col. John Nichols, 149th Fighter Wing commander; Col. Clinton E. McNabb, former commander of the 147th Fighter Wing, Cmdr. Sean Mahoney, U.S. Coast Guard Air Station commanding officer, and his wife, Christine; Command Chief Master Sgt. Sam Davis, Texas Air National Guard command chief; Command Chief Master Sgt. Johnny Jones, 136th Airlift Wing command chief; Command Chief Master Sgt. Horace Hobbs, 149th Fighter Wing command chief; Command Chief Master Sgt. Robert Heinrich, former command chief of the 147th Fighter Wing; and Meg McNeely, wife of Col. Lanny McNeely, 147th Reconnaissance Wing commander.