Celebrating 70 years! Pillars of the Past… Remembering the 1990s

On January 31, 1990, Operation CORONET COVE, a 12-year volunteer rotation to defend the Panama Canal ended. The 128 TFW had participated in this operation in 1985 and 1987. By mid-1990, the 115th Civil Engineer Squadron (CES) deployed 45 personnel to Royal Air Force (RAF) Chicksands, United Kingdom for their annual training from May 23 through June 7, 1990. By July 1990, the first Wisconsin ANG Non-Commissioned Officer Preparatory Course was held at Volk Field. July continued to be a busy month when Operation CORONET LARIAT began a new route, new host nation, and new Checkered Flag base. RAF Sculthorpe in England became home for the 320 personnel deployed during the July 14-29, 1990 exercise. All of this training would prove critical, as world affairs would rapidly change in the following month.

On August 2, 1990, the tiny nation of Kuwait was seized by Iraqi forces. The next day, the Air Force notified the National Guard Bureau (NGB) Air Directorate to be ready for a 24-hour response. Colonel Fred R. Sloan, Commander 128 TFW, discussed the unit’s focus in response to hostilities in the Middle East, “We trained year in and year out for possible outbreak of hostilities in Europe, and now within months a new threat has emerged, and we must shift our focus and maximize our readiness in support of the current crisis.” That focus on training paid off when Operation DESERT SHIELD officially kicked off on August 7, 1990.

A C-130B crew from the 128 TFW was an active participant in Operation DESERT SHIELD. The six-man team, led by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Thompson, logged more than 200 hours and 120 missions transporting 300 tons of equipment. During the initial 5-6 weeks, the crew moved cargo to the primary staging areas, Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, and McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, for eventual ferrying to Saudi Arabia. Beyond cargo, the crew transported Soldiers from the famed 101st Airborne, who were quiet and reflective as they used the flight to mentally prepare for potential combat. The last C-130B conducted its final flight from Truax Field on December 19, 1991. As with other flyers and non-flyers at the unit, the C-130B team sacrificed time away from careers, school, and family to accomplish their mission.

Excellence and dedication to duty continued at the 128 TFW beyond real-world events, parlaying itself into readiness inspections. On November 13, 1991, the unit received the first “OUTSTANDING” rating ever given to any fighter unit for a Unit Effectiveness Inspection (UEI). This monumental accomplishment was a first for any active or Reserve unit in the history of the Tactical Air Command.

On January 12, 1992, the 128 TFW officially received a new support aircraft, the Fairchild C-26B “Metroliner.” A ceremony was held in hangar 406 on the February UTA, where company representatives from the Fairchild Aircraft Corporation passed the “keys” to Colonel Fred R. Sloan, Commander, 128 TFW. The aircraft could transport 14 passengers and 50 pounds of baggage and light cargo per person. In 1996, the C-26B shifted missions and began to support counterdrug operations—a function that continues through to today. The RC-26B acted as a bridge between the Department of Defense and law enforcement agencies by providing accurate and safe intelligence and surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) from an altitude of 10,000 feet. Through its use of surveillance and photographic equipment, the RC-26B provided law enforcement agencies full motion video, ground-to-air communication capabilities, and the ability to execute day and night reconnaissance. The aircraft also supplied “eyes in the sky” during natural disasters, aiding relief efforts by providing real-time assessments of flooded areas, including dams, bridges, and highways.

On March 16, 1992, the 128 TFW faced another monumental change when the unit was redesignated the 128th Fighter Wing (FW) under the newly formed Air Combat Command and began transitioning to the F-16 Fighting Falcons. The characteristics of the new mission include aerospace control and force application. Typical missions included counter air, strategic attack, interdiction, and close air support. September 12th marked the last flight for the A-10 by pilots of the 128 FW. By October of the following year, the unit would become part of the Eighth Air Force. Three years later on October 1, 1995, the 128 FW was re-designated the 115th Fighter Wing (FW) with no change in mission or aircraft. This re-designation returned the 115 FW to its original command structure with all its supporting 115 FW designated squadrons and flights that were first established on April 15, 1956.

In March 1997, 12 F-16s from the 115 FW and 178th Fighter Wing (FW) plus the Air Force Reserve’s 419th Fighter Wing (FW) deployed to Incirlik AB, Turkey to form a “rainbow unit” of fighters to support Operation NORTHERN WATCH to help maintain a no-fly zone over the northern portion of Iraq. Near the close of 1997, the 115 FW deployed 100 personnel and six F-16 aircraft to the Gulf region in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, flying missions as part of the 4406th Operations Group (Provisional) team. The 1990s had been a decade in flux, with various changes, challenges, and real-world wartime operations. Tragically, events of the subsequent decade would drive further military operations and conflicts throughout the globe.

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