Air National Guard units on active duty in Europe, are giving a good account of themselves. They are combat-ready, fully integrated into Air Force and NATO
operations, highly regarded by Air Force commanders. They are gaining valuable experience that will help make the Guard even more effective in the years ahead.
These are my conclusions after visiting each of our units in the European theater.
I appreciate this opportunity to report to readers of AIR FORCE on that visit, particularly because it picks up where Maj. Jim Elliott’s article describing the Air Guard deployment left off, and carry on the chronology of this historic event (see “The Recall Story: To Maintain the Peace,” in January ’62 AIR FORCE).
We had every reason to expect that Air Guardsmen called to active duty were combat-qualified and well motivated, but when news stories indicated that some elements of the Reserve Forces were not up to these standards I decided to go over to Europe to see for myself how our Air Guard “Stair Step” forces were faring.
I took with me Col. Fred Hook, chief of the Air Operations and Training Division in the National Guard Bureau. We left shortly after Christmas and went directly to USAFE headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany.
There we met with USAFE Commander in Chief, Gen. Truman H. Landon; his Deputy, Lt. Gen. Harvey T. Alness; and members of their staff. Later, General Alness filled us in on the measures taken by USAFE to prepare for the arrival of Air Guard units and what had been done to integrate their activities with other USAFE forces.
One of their major planning problems is getting necessary coordinations among the various governments involved in USAFE operations. In the Pentagon we talk a lot about the coordination and red tape required to get an action paper through the Air Staff and the Office of the
Secretary of Defense, but at least we are all working tinder the same ground rules. In Europe, the western powers are working toward the same goal, and many ground rules have been established in NATO, but it still takes time, and not a little finesse, to negotiate agreements among sovereign nations, each with its own set of policies and internal conditions that may bear upon the problem.
It was obvious, from General Alness’ comments, that a tremendous amount of effort and support had been rendered throughout USAFE to smooth the way for our units and get them up to combat-ready status as soon as possible.
General Landon assigned us a C-47 and crew, and we flew from Wiesbaden to Ramstein, to meet with Maj. Gen. Russ Spicer who commands the Seventeenth Air Force. The Seventeenth is USAFE’s combat force in central Europe, and all the Air Guard squadrons, except the one at Moron, Spain, come under General Spicer’s command. It was very gratifying to hear from him that he was well pleased with the performance of the Air Guard units. The one problem that worried him was that some of the pilots who had been assigned to Guard squadrons after mobilization weren’t operationally ready in Air Guard aircraft. The Seventeenth is a “Gung Ho” outfit, as it must be on the edge of Communist territory, and General Spicer will not take time to transition any pilots in his Air Force. This situation was easily corrected by swapping unqualified pilots for combat-ready pilots in Air Guard units back home, and all cockpits in our Air Guard squadrons are now occupied by ready pilots.
General Spicer and his staff gave us a detailed briefing on the mission of the Seventeenth. He made it clear that if anything should break loose in Europe every element of the Seventeenth would know just what to do and to whom.
Air Guard units have their assignments along with all other Air Force squadrons under General Spicer’s command. I came away from that briefing with renewed respect for the fine attention this combat-experienced airman devotes to every detail of his responsibilities, and his remarks provided an excellent perspective in which to evaluate the status of our Guard units in Europe.
Two Air Guard squadrons are based at General Spicer’s headquarters at Ramstein. They are the 151st of Knoxville, Tenn., and the 197th from Phoenix, Ariz., both equipped with F-104s. They are elements of the 86th Air Division, commanded by Brig. Gen. Frank W. Gillespie. The division is a part of General Spicer’s force. It was reassuring to hear from both of these capable commanders that the boys from Knoxville and Phoenix knew their business.
One factor was giving the F-104 pilots trouble—weather. When we visited the alert hangar the pilots were impatiently waiting for the weather to improve up to the prescribed operating minimums. “Anytime we get an alternate,” one said, “we go.”
Next morning, luckily the weather was above minimums, and we departed for Dreux Air Base, near Paris, headquarters of the 7117th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing and 106th Squadron, late of Birmingham, Ala.
The four-numbered wing designations look strange to Air Guardsmen at first, but it’s easy to read them. Under the Air Force’s IBM code system, the figure “7” is used as a prefix to designate a provisional unit. Because all but one of the Air Guard wing headquarters in Europe are split off from the remainder of the wing headquarters back home, the Air Force assigned the “7” prefix to their regular designation. Thus, the 117th Wing element in Europe becomes the 7117th, to differentiate from the 117th Wing element remaining in Birmingham to administer their other squadrons in the States. The one exception is the 102d Wing from Massachusetts, which deployed to Europe intact and hence doesn’t require the “provisional” prefix.
Dreux is a fine big installation which had been inactive for some time until the Guardsmen arrived. Some of its buildings are used as a school for dependents of Americans stationed in the Paris area, civilians as well as military. When the Birmingham wing and tac recon squadrons moved into Dreux, their commander, Lt. Col. James E. Hardwick, also assumed command of the base and became, in effect, the school principal as well.
Birmingham’s RF-84Fs were later transferred to Chaumont, a couple hundred miles away. We visited next Chaumont and found the 7117th members there are rather envious of their colleagues at Dreux, possibly because of the many American school teachers there. To describe their sentiments, they have composed a little folk song entitled “Don’t Send Me Back to Birmingham—Just Send Me Back to Dreux.”
Chaumont also houses the 7108th Wing and 141st Tactical Fighter Squadron from McGuire AFB, N. J. The 141st, which shared the Air Force Association’s outstanding unit trophy a couple of years back, is a topnotch outfit, normally part of Brig. Gen. Don Strait’s command. With General Strait running his two remaining squadrons back home, Col. Joe Zink heads the 7108th. We found its combat-operations center in full swing and everything rolling along in fine style.
From Chaumont we moved on to Toul-Rosiere to meet with the Missouri Air Guard’s 7131st Tac Fighter Wing, commanded by Col. Walter J. Wiehe, and the 110th Squadron of St. Louis. Their F-84s share the base with IJSAFE B-66s and F-101s. USAFE’s 7544th Support Wing is also located there, which helps to make life a little easier for operating units on the base since the 7544th receives and allots all equipment for Seventeenth Air Force installations. The 7131st has been one of the tenant units, but Colonel Wiehe is slated to take command of the base on March 15.
Next day was one of the busiest in our itinerary, with three stops, all fairly close together. The first was at Etain, occupied by the 7121st Tac Fighter Wing of Ohio and the 166th Squadron from Lockbourne. Col. Albert B. Line, of Mansfield, Ohio, who had been Deputy Wing Commander back home, runs the show at Etain. Facilities were adequate, morale was high, and the biggest problem was weather, which of course was true at all bases in France and Germany.
We moved on to Chambley, occupied by Indiana Air Guardsmen under Col. Irwin Bucher, of Fort Wayne. The main element of his 7122d Wing is the 163d Tac Fighter Squadron of Fort Wayne, which shared AFA’s outstanding unit trophy in 1960 and won it outright in 1961. Accordingly, we were pleased but not surprised to find that this unit enjoyed the highest operationally ready aircraft among Seventeenth Air Force units, and a zero AOCP rate. Colonel Bucher and Maj. Eugene Royer, 163d Commander, explained that they had stocked their flyaway kits with everything they thought they’d need, totaling some 8,000 items. Nothing succeeds like success; General Spicer’s headquarters has now recommended the 7122d flyaway kit list as standard for all F-84F tac fighter wings.
From Chambley it is just a short hop to Phalsbourg and the 102d Tactical Fighter Wing, led by Brig. Gen. Charles Sweeney of Boston. General Sweeney’s is the only Air Guard wing operating intact in Europe. It includes squadrons from Boston and Westfield, Mass., and Syracuse, N. Y., all of which fly the F-86H.
General Sweeney seems to have the best setup of all the Air Guard units. Not only is Phalsbourg probably the best-equipped dispersed operating base in France, but General Sweeney has his entire wing staff and support units to handle the wing’s missions as well as to run the hospital, commissary, clothing sales store, base exchange, billeting office, etc. General Sweeney’s smooth efficient operation at Phalsbourg demonstrated that Air Guard wing manning is adequate when a wing is deployed intact, but that the split-wing structure established for other Air Guard units in Europe requires varying degrees of improvisation.
From Phalsbourg we flew across France and Spain to Moron, not far from Gibraltar, to visit the 157th Tac Fighter Squadron, an F-104 outfit from McEntire ANG Base, S. C. Lt. Col. Bob Corbett, the Squadron Commander, showed us through his section of this big SAC reflex base. This squadron was the first of the F-104 units to enter on alert status after reaching Europe. It is no reflection on that achievement to note that the 157th did have two big advantages over the squadrons at Ramstein—first, the weather which, while wet at this time of year, is well above minimums as a rule; and second, a fine set of facilities especially designed for air defense.
Colonel Corbett’s squadron won the hearts of the Spanish population almost immediately. Unusually heavy rainfall caused floods that forced many people to evacuate their homes in Seville. Squadron members wrote home to South Carolina for spare clothing and food. Columbia newspapers and television stations joined in, merchants contributed, and thousands of pounds of food and clothing were collected. SAC bombers and tankers, operating between Hunter AFB, Savannah, Ga., and Moron, ferried the welcome cargo to Spain.
The 157th is part of the 65th Air Division with headquarters at Torrejon, near Madrid. From Moron we visited Cot. Andrew Evans, who commands the 65th. He told us he was very pleased with the professionalism exhibited by personnel of the 157th.
We were forced to stay overnight at Torrejon, awaiting weather clearance back to Ramstein. To while away the time, Fred Hook and I visited some points of interest in Madrid and are able to report that recreational facilities there are entirely adequate, and considerably less expensive than in Paris.
At Ramstein we were briefed on the 4th Allied Tactical Air Force by Brig. Gen. Reg Clizbe, its Director of Operations. The 4th ATAF includes French, German, and Canadian air elements, plus USAFE’s Seventeenth Air Force. Thus, Air Guard squadrons in Europe are also part of the 4th ATAF.
From Ramstein our itinerary called for us to visit units of the Air Guard’s 152d Tactical Control Group at a number of points in Germany. Since they were more accessible by car than by plane, we turned in USAFE’s C-47 at Ram-stein and picked up Capt. Bill Gill of USAFE, an electronics officer who was to double as our guide and driver.
En route to the 152d headquarters at Mannheim, where we were to meet Col. Willard Magalhaes, 152d Commander, we stopped at Sembach, home of the 108th AC&W Flight from Syracuse. N. Y. The 108th, commanded by Lt. Col. Alexie N. Stout, shares the base with USAFE’s 38th Tactical Missile Wing. Colonel Stout told us that when his unit arrived every man was greeted by a member of the 38th Wing who served as his host to show him around the base. When they reached their barracks they found that even their beds had been made up by their thoughtful hosts.
We drove on to Mannheim to Colonel Magalhaes’ headquarters, also the location of the 106th Tac Control Squadron of Roslyn, N. Y., under Lt. Cot. Mervin E. Sheu. The installation there is operated by the Army. Colonel Magalhaes briefed us on the deployment and mission of his group, whose units provide radar control and coverage for USAFE’s tactical missile squadrons as well as manned aircraft. While we were there, personnel were still busy sorting out and reshipping the group’s equipment which had been routed to Mannheim because of some uncertainty over exact operating sites when units left the States.
From Mannheim we visited the 123d AC&W Squadron from Blue Ash, Ohio, near Cincinnati, now based at Land-shut, also an Army installation. Maj. Chester C. Hawley, who commands the 123d, said he had no unresolved problems and his men were on the job with most of his unit’s equipment on hand.
In the National Guard Bureau, we had received inquiries from members of Congress about conditions the 123d found at Landshut. The wives of some 123d members had written that their husbands were experiencing certain hardships and had very little work to do. We asked Major Hawley about this matter.
He said he, too, had heard about the letters and had immediately called his men together. It was true, he said, that when the unit reached Landshut, the barracks they were to occupy had not recently been used and some improvements were necessary. But the Army commander was most cooperative in providing men and supplies to help the Guardsmen make their surroundings more comfortable.
A sergeant in the squadron explained it in these words: “In our first days in a strange country, it’s only human to look for a little sympathy from home. Then too, we did leave our wives to face a few problems with the kids and family finances. It wouldn’t sit too well with them if we told them we were having a ball. But the boys were surprised and a little embarrassed when their wives made a big thing out of their letters. We’re really in pretty good shape.”
The 101st AC&W Flight from Worcester, Mass., ran into another type of problem when they moved into Giebelstadt, operated by the German Air Force. The area they were to occupy had been a youth hostel. “We were shown through the area by the German commander,” said Lt. Col. Ernest 0. Lindblom, the 101st’s Commander. “When we came to the latrine, I asked if he had been expecting a bunch of midgets. The plumbing fixtures seemed about one foot off the floor. It took us a few days to straighten that out.”
Another unit sharing facilities with the German Air Force is the 112th AC&W Flight from State College, Pa., now based at Beuchel. These men, under Lt. Col. Kenneth L. Royer, are working under austere conditions but they are overcoming their difficulties with normal Air Guard ingenuity and had nothing but good words for the cooperation extended by their German hosts.
Probably the most attractive base we visited was Roth-western, where the 103d AC&W Squadron of Orange, Conn., is based. Lt. Col. William J. Pollitt and his men are living in a college campus atmosphere at a former German aviation cadet training school now run by the Army. Needless to say, accommodations are excellent, and the Connecticut Guardsmen consider themselves fortunate to be stationed there.
A small detachment of the 103d led by Capt. Nick Sowpel is based at Mausdorf, undergoing on-the-job training with a detachment of the Air Force’s 601st Tactical Control Squadron, preparing to take over its modern functions. This equipment is newer than anything in the Air Guard inventory and is a challenging assignment both in its operation and the purpose for which it is used.
The last stop on our itinerary was Celle, also a German Air Force base. When the 102d AC&W Squadron of Rhode Island arrived there, they found that the German commander and his staff had moved out of the headquarters building to make it available to Maj. Irvin G. Ray and his men until adequate housing could be arranged. This attitude has been typical of the German Air Force, which has gone out of its way to help make the Guardsmen comfortable within their limited resources. There was some delay in setting up operations at Celle until the British and German governments could work out an operating agreement with USAFE, but this was completed early in January, and the 102d is now in full swing.
We returned to USAFE headquarters at Wiesbaden to report to General Landon and General Alness on our findings, and to express appreciation for the wholehearted support we found at every installation. I told General Alness in return that I could assure him all Air Guard units were eager to get on with the mission, morale was high, and a general “can-do” attitude prevailed.
There are some problems, and undoubtedly the Guardsmen will be uncovering and solving new ones throughout their duty in Europe. But, as one man put it: “This deployment isn’t too different from going to field training each summer. After you’ve been through a few summer camp tours, you learn to take what you find and make the best out of it. I figure this year’s duty over here is equivalent to about twenty-six years of summer-camp experience. We’re making out OK!”