Aug. 31, 2009

Heritage of Virginia Air Guard commemorated with historical marker

By Lt. Col. D. Magaldi
Virginia Air Guard Public Affairs

SANDSTON, Va. — The beginnings and illustrious history of the Virginia Air National Guard were recently commemorated during a ceremony and the unveiling of a special roadside marker at the Virginia Aviation Museum, located just outside of Richmond.

  Virginia Air Guard marker

A new roadside marker outside the Virginia Aviation Museum in Sandston recognizes and celebrates the achievements of the Virginia Air National Guard. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. James R. Orbin, Virginia Air National Guard)

The Virginia Air National Guard grew from one flying unit, the 149th Fighter Squadron, which takes its military lineage and heritage from World War II's legendary and heroic 328th Fighter Squadron. The Blue Nosed Bastards of Bodney, flying the P-47 Thunderbolt followed by the P-51 Mustang, took down German interceptors in intense aerial dogfight action and escorted and protected Allied bomber forces as the bombers pummeled the military capabilities of the Third Reich. From that one unit, the 149th Fighter Squadron, the Virginia Air National Guard has grown into four distinct units that support both commonwealth and federal missions.

Keynote speaker for the July 18 event was Virginia's Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Robert B. Newman, Jr., who is a command pilot and member of the Virginia Air National Guard. The dedication was attended by local dignitaries, commonwealth officials, and members of the Virginia National Guard and the Virginia Aeronautical Historical Society.

The marker and the ceremony were spearheaded by the Virginia Aeronautical Historical Society to recognize the 60-year connection between Richmond International Airport (formerly Byrd Field) and the founding of the Virginia Air National Guard in June 1947. The historic marker was provided by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

The ceremony kicked off inside the museum with a welcome and opening remarks by VAHS chairman and master of ceremonies Albert M. Orgain, IV. He discussed Virginia's rich aviation history and touched on many of the aviation accomplishments, milestones and individuals that have been recognized with historical markers over the years. Virginia's historical marker program began in 1927.

James Barrett of the Virginia Department of Transportation (retired) and Randall Burdette, director of the Virginia Department of Aviation, spoke after Orgain. They thanked those who had or were currently serving in the Virginia Air National Guard – for their service and inspiration – and for their support of national defense missions and natural disaster response for the commonwealth.

Varina Supervisor James B. Donati Jr. was next to the podium; he spoke of the Air National Guard's impact to Sandston and the region over the decades. Born just a couple years before the Virginia Air National Guard, he grew up with the "sounds of freedom" as Air Guard aircraft regularly flew in and out of Richmond International Airport. "The Virginia Air National Guard has been a key player in the county's history. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Guard for its patriotic service," he said. "I've always lived within two to three miles of the airport. I grew up with the sounds of freedom and those memories will stay with me forever."

He thanked the Guard for its strong ties to the local community and for its instrumental part in working with the Henrico County Emergency Planning Commission over several years to develop an emergency response plan.

  Virginia Air Guard marker

Randall Burdette, director of the Virginia Department of Aviation, and Maj. Gen. Robert B. Newman, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, unveil the new roadside marker recognizing the Virginia Air National July 18 in Sandston, Va. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. James R. Orbin, Virginia Air National Guard)

Next the Adjutant General of Virginia, spoke. Newman thanked the individuals and groups that initiated the plaque and the dedication. He described the National Guard as a distinctly U.S. organization that is trained for and ready to respond to two separate roles: missions supporting the federal government and the Department of Defense and state missions such as responding to natural disasters or terrorist attacks.

Newman recounted the history of the first Virginia ANG unit, 149th Fighter Squadron, and its military lineage with the 328th Fighter Squadron, an ace World War II unit. The general touched on the many of the aircraft flown by the 149th Fighter Squadron, which became the operational unit for what is now the 192nd Fighter Wing as well as many of the wing's accomplishments.

The event then moved outdoors where Burdette and Newman unveiled the new marker. A reception sponsored by Brink's was held afterward.

The 192nd moved from its longtime home at the Richmond International Airport in October 2007 and now flies and maintains the Air Force's premier fighter, the F-22A Raptor, along side active duty counterparts at Langley Air Force Base, Va.

Sandston remains the home of the Virginia Air National Guard Headquarters and the 200th Weather Flight. A Virginia Air Guard rapid-response, bare-base engineering unit, the 203rd RED HORSE Squadron, is located on the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach.

Below are just some of the highlights of the 192nd Fighter Wing over the years:

- Activated for federal service in March 1951 to support the U.S. military during the Korean War, and again at the height of the Cold War in 1961, due to the tensions surrounding the Berlin Wall.

- The 192nd deployed several times to Panama during the 1980s to aid the defense of the Panama Canal, and two deployments to Norway in 1985 and 1989. The unit competed in Gunsmoke '85, the Air Force’s tactical fighter competition, and was named the world's "Best A-7 Unit." That year the 192nd also earned the General Spruance Safety Award and was recognized as having the best Operational Readiness Inspection in the Ninth Air Force.

- The 192nd Fighter Wing soared into a new era of aviation technology in 1991 when it became the first Air National Guard unit to receive the Air Force’s upgraded Fighting Falcon – the F-16C/D. After becoming fully operational with the F-16, the unit was chosen to lead a four-state Air National Guard F-16 "rainbow" detachment deployment to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, to support Operation Provide Comfort II. Between Dec. 1, 1993, and Jan. 15, 1994, ANG pilots patrolled the no-fly zone over northern Iraq. This was the first time Air National Guard units were called to active duty in Southwest Asia, following Iraq's defeat in 1991. The unit returned to Incirlik in February 1996 for another round of patrols over Iraq.

- At the direction of the Air Combat Command commander in January 1995, the 192nd became a test regional repair center for F-16 engines. The 18-month assignment called for the unit's propulsion section to strip and rebuild General Electric F110-GE-100 engines for its own F-16s as well as for F-16s assigned to Pope Air Force Base, N.C. The Air Force aimed to reduce the number of F-16 maintenance workers, consolidate their training, reduce duplication of resources, and lower maintenance costs per flying hour.

- The 192nd was selected to test the capability of a new electro-optical reconnaissance pod. After becoming mission capable with the pods in April 1996, the wing deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, in May for the first contingency use of the pods and computerized imaging equipment. For 45 days, the wing flew "recce" missions over Bosnia to support international peacekeeping efforts.

- In December 2000, 29 members of the 192nd deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Southern Watch. In addition to Turkey and Kuwait, unit members were deployed to Prince Sultan Air Base and Eskan Village, Saudi Arabia; Aviano Air Base, Italy; and Qatar. Also in December, the wing deployed on its first Aerospace Expeditionary Force assignment. A 130-person detachment went to Curaçao in the Netherlands Antilles as part of Operation Nighthawk, an effort to stem drug smuggling into the United States.

- In the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, more than 400 unit members were called to active duty for up to two years. Beginning in mid-September the unit flew combat air patrols day and night for 218 consecutive days protecting the United States.

- September through October 2003 the wing deployed more than 300 personnel to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

- The wing is currently deployed with the 1st Fighter Wing on a two-part AEF deployment to Kadena Air Base, Japan.

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