Celebrating 70 years! Pillars of the Past… Remembering the 1980s

The year was 1981 and with it came numerous changes for the nation and 176 TASS. In January, Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the 40th President of the U.S., the Iran Hostage Crisis came to an end that same month, the 176 TASS was redesignated yet again to the 128th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) in October, and converted aircraft from the OA-37 Dragonfly to the A-10 Thunderbolt II.

The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II was a single-seat, straight wing jet with a turbofan engine. Personnel fondly referred to the aircraft as the “Warthog” or “Hog.” The primary mission of the A-10 was to provide CAS for friendly ground forces, attacking enemy tanks and armored vehicles, while assaulting enemy ground forces from the air. The A-10s secondary mission was to operate as a forward air controller—airborne (FAC-A), directing other airborne assets on enemy ground positions and targets. Over the next 11 years, the 128 TFW would provide CAS for Army units at home and abroad.

As the unit had done with previous changes in mission, aircraft, and designations, personnel continued to strive for excellence as they trained on the A-10. The unit’s Checkered Flag base, which supported large-scale aerial exercises, was now located in the European Theater. The change in location led to “Coronet” deployments, the first being Operation CORONET GIANT from April 28 through May 18, 1984. More than 300 support personnel and 12 A-10 aircraft deployed to Lechfeld Air Base near the Bavarian city of Munich, Germany and was the first time the entire wing had deployed to an overseas base. CORONET GIANT was also the first joint overseas non-stop deployment from Syracuse to Lechfeld.

During the interim between exercises Operation CORONET GIANT and Operation CORONET MERCURY, the 128 TFW deployed to defend the Panama Canal. The unit was tasked with providing air defense for the Panama Canal Zone. The A-7 Corsair, typically used by the Army and Navy forces defending the Panama Canal, was grounded due to runway construction. The A-10 could take off and land on shorter runways, so the 128 TFW and other A-10 units rotated their aircraft into the region. Sorties were flown twice per day, and in one instance, the unit flew 35 out of 36 scheduled sorties in a 14-hour period.

Again in 1985 and once more in 1987, six A-10s and around 50 support personnel deployed to the tropics of Central America for Operation CORONET COVE. Two years later, in the summer of 1987, the 128 TFW was involved in Operation CORONET MERCURY. This exercise familiarized Guard units with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the USAF Europe (USAFE) practices as they relate to flight and ground operations. The unit airlifted 275 personnel to Europe in C-141s and KC-135s, along with 12 A-10s. The exercise boosted the confidence of 128 TFW members that they could operate and excel in a NATO environment. This confidence would carry the unit into the 1990s and through another mission and aircraft change and challenge.