Celebrating 70 years! Pillars of the Past… Remembering the 1960s

In early 1960, the 176 FIS began manning for the air defense alert mission. This mission would continue for the next 14 years and represented a noticeable increase in operations tempo. Alert pilots and crews stood ready on 14-hour shifts, from early evening to early morning the next day. This schedule facilitated the participation of students and those with civilian careers in the local community. By the close of 1960, the Milwaukee-based 128th Fighter Interceptor Group had transitioned to the KC-97L Stratofreighter and changed their designation to the 128th Air Refueling Group (ARG). This left the Madison-based 115 FIG under the command of the 128th Air Defense Wing. The 176 FIS continued its mission, growing in numbers and stature, and by October 1963 the unit was celebrating its 15th anniversary.

Throughout the 1960s, the two aircraft that participated in the alert mission where the F-89 Scorpion, assigned to the unit from 1955 to 1966, and the F-102 Delta Dagger, assigned from 1966 to 1974. The F-89 was an all-weather fighter-interceptor designed by Northrop for the ADC. The aircraft had a radar operator who sat behind the pilot, helping to detect, intercept, and terminate enemy aircraft. The F-102’s primary mission was similar to that of the F-89, to intercept and destroy enemy aircraft. A marked difference between the two aircraft was that the F-102 was the world’s first supersonic all-weather jet interceptor and the Air Force’s first operational delta-wing aircraft.

The transition from the F-89 to the F-102 was a complicated matter that involved finding homes for personnel from the recently inactivated 325th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS), the Air Force unit on base, and the retraining of maintenance personnel, radar operators, and pilots on the new aircraft. It was a steep learning curve, but the challenge was met head-on, with the outcome being a squadron ready for air defense.

Typical air defense exercises began at around 2200 hours and concluded at 0300 or later, and drills operated out of K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base Michigan, Duluth, Minnesota, or Canadian bases. The Guard drills evolved into practice for future Operational Readiness Inspections (ORIs), establishing familiarity with equipment and procedures. A test of the 176 FIS’s training came in August 1969, when, at the time, the second strongest tropical cyclone to strike the U.S., Hurricane Camille, made landfall along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The unit responded quickly with clothing and food to the devastated area.

A significant milestone occurred a year earlier on July 1, 1968, when Congress made effective, under Public Law 90-130, the ability for women to enlist in the Guard. Since 1967, Congress had authorized the enlistment of prior-service. By September 1970, the first woman had joined the 176 FIS, Captain Nanette Goupil. Then, on May 25, 1972, Staff Sergeant Janet E. Hattleberg became the first enlisted female and first female technician later that year. Women had been allowed to serve in the National Guard since August 1, 1956, but only as nurses. Today, the 115 FW, the successor to the 176 FIS, has female ranks that represent roughly a third of the unit’s end strength, and all career fields at the 115 FW are open to women—a marked improvement since the early 1970s.