Wednesday, October 22, 2014

EDITORIAL: Top award for 19th AW

The Air Force Historical Foundation recently presented its James H. Doolittle Award to the 19th Airlift Wing for its contribution to airpower for more than 80 years. It’s an amazing history from the early decades of air combat to the modern era.

In making the award, the foundation noted that the 19th Airlift Wing “has displayed gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps while accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions in multiple conflicts, and thus has made a sustained, significant contribution to Air Force history.”

The 19th AW, also known as the Black Knights, arrived at Little Rock Air Force Base in 2008 and flies the all-new C-130Js in the Global War on Terror. It is the largest C-130 wing in the world and is part of Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Air Force Base.

Col. Patrick Rhatigan, commander of the 19th AW, along with Command Chief Master Sgt. Rhonda Buening, accepted the award in Arlington, Va. Also attending were Brig. Gen. Gregory Otey, former 19th AW commander, Sens. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) and Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot), Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher and others.

“To be recognized with an award named after one of the most innovative and courageous airmen in the history of flight is truly an honor,” Rhatigan said at the ceremony. “The story of the 19th is not about the aircraft or the missions they’ve accomplished. The story of the 19th is a story about airmen — airmen who are the foundation of our success, then and now.

The 19th has flown bombers during the Second World War, Cold War, Korea, the Cuban missile crisis, as well as in Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf and then was re-formed as the host wing at Little Rock Air Force Base.

The 19th AW has flown, fought and won with the motto: “In Alis Vincimus”— “On wings we conquer.”

One of the most decorated groups in the U.S. military, the 19th AW has been making military history since 1927, when it started out as the 19th Observation Group, one of 15 original combat air groups in the Army. It became the 19th Bomb Group in 1932. In 1941, the group moved its 35 B-17 Flying Fortresses to Clark Field in the Philippines in 1941.

On Dec. 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese carried out a surprise attack on Clark Field, destroying all the 16 B-17s on the ground. The group had 16 planes left and led the attack on the Japanese fleet near the Philippines, Japanese-controlled Formosa, the Dutch East Indies and Papua New Guinea. In 1944, the 19th was re-equipped with the B-29 Super fortress and led the attack on Tokyo in February 1945.

During the Korean War, B-29s bombed North Korea and were later absorbed into Strategic Air Command. The planes were on constant alert during the Cold War, ready to attack the Soviet Union.

The 19th made several moves over the next decades and evolved into the 19th Refueling Wing, setting distance records for the longest flights without refueling. The wing continues its missions to Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, with several hundred airmen deployed overseas since 9/11.

Six years ago, the 19th Airlift Wing found a new — and we hope, permanent — home at Little Rock Air Force Base. As noted in the citation that accompanied the Doolittle Award, the wing continues its tradition of gallantry as it carries out its many missions in often hostile environments.

We salute the Black Knights of the 19th Airlift Wing, along with their partners, the 314th Airlift Wing, the Air National Guard’s 189th Airlift Wing and the Air Reserves’ 913th Airlift Group.

May they remain a beacon of hope and a symbol of freedom around the world for at least the next 87 years.