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537th Airlift Squadron flies again after 40 years
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Air Force Col. William Routt, 3rd Operations Group commander, unfurls the 537th Airlift squadron guidon held by Senior Master Sgt. Steve Vaughn, as Air Force Lt. Col. Thomas McGee, 537th AS commander, looks on during the unit’s activation ceremony, April 29. (U.S. Air Force photo\Steve White)
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537th Airlift Squadron flies again after 40 years

Posted 5/9/2011   Updated 5/9/2011 Email story   Print story


by Senior Airman Christopher Gross
JBER Public Affairs

5/9/2011 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- It's been more than 40 years since someone with the 537th Airlift Squadron has taken flight. That hiatus came to an end earlier this week, but first the 537th AS was activated last Friday for the first time since the squadron was deactivated in the early 1970s at Phu Cat Air Base, South Vietnam.

At the time it was the 537th Tactical Airlift Squadron and they flew the C-7 Caribou. Three members from the crew that was stationed in South Vietnam attended the activation ceremony and Air Force Lt. Col. Thomas McGee, 537th AS commander at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, said they were all delighted to see their squadron be brought back to life.

"It's a tremendous honor to stand up a squadron, and having (members of the 537th TAS) here," McGee said.

McGee then added he and his squadron, which will be forming over the duration of the next couple months, are ready to open another chapter under the 3rd Wing.

He said they're proud to be on board with members of the 144th Airlift Squadron flying C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft and ensuring that they tackle the missions ahead.

"The way it will work in the future is a perfect example of total force integration, where active duty personnel and [Air National] Guard personnel work together seamlessly to accomplish the mission, so basically it's 'one team, one fight,'" McGee said.

The 537th AS, an active-duty unit, will be made up of approximately100 personnel and will team up with the 144th AS, which is an Alaska Air National Guard squadron.

Airmen and equipment of the 144th AS arrived at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson just a couple months ago, with eight C-130s coming from Kulis Air National Guard Base.

Both units will work hand-in-hand, occupying the same offices; Airmen of the 537th AS will be using the Guard's aircraft and they'll fly integrated flights with each other.

In the coming months, the 144th AS is expected to receive another four C-130s from the Tennessee Air National Guard, so the two squadrons will have 12 aircraft.

"As we look down the road, it will be important because we can both learn from each other's experience and complement each other's strengths," McGee said.

Because they are starting with basically nothing and are having to build a squadron from the ground up, Lt. Col. Eric Knight, 537th AS chief pilot, said the 144th AS has been nothing but helpful.

"We're starting from scratch," Knight said.

"The 144th has been awesome -- we've leaned heavily on those guys and the processes they have in place."

Knight was also the pilot to fly the first flight in more than 40 years for the 537th AS this past Monday.

"Being able to fly that first flight was quite the honor; it was the result of a lot of hard work done on the part of a lot of people," he said.

Knight said it's not every day a new squadron stands up in the Air Force, so being able to do this for the first time in more than 40 years meant a lot.

Knight added that he arrived at JBER last October and since then it's been all business trying to re-establish this squadron.

He said the event that took place last week was "a step in a milestone, but it's not the end by any stretch -- it's just the beginning of everything we need to do."

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