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Five squadrons celebrate centennial in 2017

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --

The 97th Intelligence Squadron came together Aug. 18 to celebrate their unit’s centennial almost to the exact day of their activation of Aug. 20, 1917, at Kelly Field, Texas.

The 97th is one of five squadrons with direct ties to Offutt or the 55th Wing that mark their centennial in 2017, while there are more than 30 throughout Air Combat Command.

All of the squadrons were activated in response to World War I and have continued to play a role in our nation’s defense since their inceptions.

“The U.S. Congress declared war on the Central Powers on April 6, 1917, and at that time the U.S. Army was a mere 133,000 men strong while the U.S. Army Air Service had only 56 qualified military aviators,” said John McQueney, 55th Wing historian.

McQueney said that during an active week of combat on the western front, the allies’ flying corps would lose at least that many aviators.

“Congress made the largest appropriation of funds up to that point in our nation’s history and dedicated $640 million to build a mighty air force,” McQueney said. “All of these units were activated to be a part of that air force.”

The specific number assigned to each unit was simply the order in which the squadron was organized.

“The war department originally tried to program squadrons for specific missions, such as pursuit, observation, bombing or service, but soon abandoned this as it became impossible to forecast requirements accurately,” McQueney said. “They decided upon a standard 150 enlisted man squadron that could be then customized with officers as needed.

McQueney said most of the first squadrons organized stood up as schools, construction or supply units as that was what was most needed to mobilize the air service.

“That’s why the 95th Pursuit Squadron, though one of the first into combat, has the number 95, because it was the 95th 150 enlisted man squadron to be organized,” he said.

McQueney said it’s almost mind boggling to see how far U.S. military aviation has come over the past 100 years.

“We started with 56 flyers and no aviation industry worthy of the name,” he said. “But it was the arrival of the U.S. units, including the air service, who played a part in ensuring the Germans did not win the war.”

1st Airborne Command Control Squadron - The 1st ACCS traces its roots to the U.S. Army’s Company A, 2nd Balloon Squadron, established in 1917 at Fort Omaha, Nebraska, later to be consolidated with the air corps’ 1st Ferrying Squadron. The squadron at that time performed observation du­ties over Southern California and France in World War I. During World War II, the 1st Ferrying Squadron flew aircraft from the factory to units overseas until their inactivation in April 1944.

The 1st ACCS reactivated July 1, 1969, and flew specially modified EC-135 aircraft in support of the National Emergency Airborne Command Post, supporting the president of the United States. In 1973, the 1st ACCS converted to modified Boeing 747s, called E-4As, and in 1984 the unit completed the switch to the E-4B aircraft, which are still being used today.

On July 29, 1994, the National Emergency Airborne Command Post changed its name to the National Airborne Opera­tions Center. Today, the 1st ACCS continues to support the president, Secretary of Defense and the National Military Com­mand System under the leadership of the 595th Command and Control Group.

41st Electronic Combat Squadron - The 41st ECS lineage can be traced back to Company A of the 4th Balloon Squadron, circa November 1917.  The squadron patch incorporates two symbols of this heritage with 13 yellow rays representing the 13 original balloon reconnaissance missions of World War I, while the triangle of interlocking steel rings is a symbol of reconnaissance in general. Although the unit has changed names several times over the years, its mission centered mainly on airborne observation and reconnaissance. It was during World War II that the numerical designation, 41st, was assigned to the unit.

The 41st ECS played a major role during the Vietnam War as the 41st Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron. The unit was based at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, where they supported early combat efforts while flying the RB-66 aircraft.

The squadron’s historic change of mission from reconnaissance to electronic combat took place in 1967. From then on, the 41st flew the famed EB-66 Destroyer, providing direct, tactical electronic combat support to the heaviest air strikes of the Vietnam War. More importantly, the 41st played an important role in proving the military worth of electronic combat as a modern combat weapon.

After being inactivated in October 1969, the squadron was reactivated in July 1980 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. Since then, the 41st ECS has flown the EC-130H Compass Call.

43rd Electronic Combat Squadron - The 43rd ECS is the oldest squadron out of the group with Offutt ties, beginning August 17, 1917, as the 86th Aero Squadron. It served under Gen. Billy Mitchell in the final clash of World War I, for which it earned a combat streamer.

Reactivated in 1935, the unit operated as part of the Air Corp Tactical School, Maxwell Field, Alabama.

Renamed the 86th Observation Squadron and transferred to the Territory of Hawaii, members of the unit engaged attacking Japanese aircraft on December 7th, 1941. The following day, 86th aircraft patrolled the island and discovered a small two-man submarine. Within hours the small observation squadron captured the first Japanese POW of World War II. Later in the war, the now renamed 86th Combat Mapping Squadron flew over enemy held islands photographing and mapping the terrain and Japanese positions.  The 86th prepared the way for the taking of the Marshall Islands, Wake, Guam and Iwo Jima as well as making the first photographic mosaics of Tokyo.

Deactivated at the end of World War II, the unit reactivated in 1954 at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., as the 43rd Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron. The 43rd aircrews flew photographic missions in RB-57 and RB-66 aircraft until being deactivated in 1959.

Re-designated the 43rd Electronic Combat Squadron, the unit began its current information warfare role at Sembach Air Base, Germany in 1986. And in 1992, the squadron moved to Davis-Monthan as the sister squadron to the 41st ECS.

95th Reconnaissance Squadron - The 95th RS traces its roots back to August 20, 1917, as the 95th Aero Squadron. Activated during World War I, the squadron was the “first to the front” in France where it flew a combination of Nieuport 28 and Spad XIII biplanes and earned honors as the first squadron to fly combat missions. It was during this period that the 95th adopted the emblem of the kicking mule on a blue surround to mark their aircraft.  The blue represented the unit’s arena of operations, while the kicking mule symbolized the unit’s striking power, “swift and accurate.”

During the inter-war period, while under the command of Capt. Hugh Elmendorf and flying Boeing P-12s, the squadron was the first to reach an altitude of 30,000 feet. After being moved, re-designated and inactivated several times, the squadron became the 95th Bombardment Squadron in 1939. Flying North American B-25 Mitchells, the unit again led the charge when on the eve of World War II they were credited with sinking the first Japanese submarine off the coast of Oregon. The squadron also provided six of 16 crews in the famous Doolittle Raid on Tokyo.

During the Korean War, the 95th flew night intruder combat missions against communist troops from bases in Korea and Japan with B-26 Invaders. After the war, the unit transitioned to B-66s before inactivating in 1958.

Reactivated in 1982 as the 95th RS at RAF Alconbury, U.K., the unit flew the U-2 on politically sensitive missions throughout the years. The 95th flew combat operations in Iraq in 1991 before being inactivated in 1993.

In 1994, the 95th RS reactivated once again replacing the existing 922nd Reconnaissance Squadron, and was assigned to the 55th Wing to operate the RC-135 aircraft throughout Europe where it remains today.

97th Intelligence Squadron - The 97th IS has a tactical airborne reconnaissance support heritage that goes back to 1917 and includes combat support in both World Wars.

After serving during World War I, the squadron was demobilized Feb. 3, 1919 and then reconstituted and consolidated with the 97th Observation Squadron March. 1, 1935.

On Jan. 13, 1942, the unit was re-designated as the 97th Observation Squadron (medium) and once again on April 2, 1943 as the 97th Reconnaissance Squadron (Fighter). Finally, the unit was re-designated as the 97th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron Aug. 11, 1943, only to be disbanded April 15, 1944.

The 97th IS was reconstituted and consolidated July 1, 1965, with the 6949th Security Wing under the U.S. Air Force Security Service and later as a security squadron. The unit remained a squadron until 1975, at which point it was elevated briefly to wing status, then to a group as the 6949th ESG in 1980.

The 6949th ESG made its final appearance Aug. 1, 1981, remaining the 6949th under the Electronic Security Command, and later the Air Force Intelligence Command, until Oct. 1, 1993, which commemorates both the re-designation of the 97th IS and the creation of Air Intelligence Agency.

The memorandum of agreement between the commanders of Air Combat Command and Air Force Intelligence Command restructured the 97th IS as operationally controlled by ACC and administratively controlled by Air Force Intelligence Command on Oct. 1, 1993. In 2002, the 97th IS mission and personnel were transferred by ACC from the 67th Information Operations Group to the 55th Operations Group.

Today, the 97th is one of the largest squadrons in the Air Force. Their mission is to help the 55th Wing provide combat ready aircrew to project dominant worldwide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to warfighters and national leadership.