By Tech. Sgt. Robin Olsen, JFHQ
/ Published January 03, 2012
Nashville -- From its creation during World War I, the Tennessee Air National Guard's 105th Airlift Squadron has undergone many changes. This year, as the unit celebrates its 90th Anniversary, more changes are underway as the 118th Airlift Wing braces for a new mission yet again.
The Squadron, which is now part of the Nashville Wing, was originally formed at Kelly Field, Texas, on August 27, 1917, as the 105th Aero Squadron of the American Expeditionary Force. It was the first National Guard Squadron to be organized in the United States. The unit served in France from December 24, 1917 to November 11, 1918.
After the war, many veterans of the Texas Squadron found themselves in the Nashville area and gathered to organize an air element of the Tennessee National Guard. These members included Lieutenants Hinton, Bennett, Jett Potter, Justin Potter, Dodson, and Fox. Hinton was the first Squadron Commander, a position he held until the unit was federally recognized. Afterwards, he went on to be a newspaper publisher in France.
On December 4, 1921, the unit was federally recognized and designated as the 136th Observation Squadron. It was originally assigned to the U.S. Army's 30th Old Hickory Division, subsequently dubbing the unit the "Old Hickory" Squadron. Today, the Squadron patch still reflects Andrew Jackson, "Old Hickory", on horseback.
The beginnings of the Squadron were gloomy days for housing and other facilities. There was no landing field or hanger. The State was unable to help financially assist the Squadron's needs. A Nashville citizen, names H. O. Blackwood, donated $1,000 and with this money, an old war-time hanger was moved from Park Field, near Memphis, to a field 12 miles northeast of Nashville, which was then named Blackwood Field. The Squadron operated from Blackwood Field for several years.
A short time later, the Squadron received its first four of eight Curtiss JN-6 "Jenny" biplanes. The JN-6 was the final version of this aircraft and remained in service with the U.S. Army until 1927. The unit also received one DeHavilland DH-4B airplane, nicknamed the flaming coffin. This was a British designed biplane with the purpose being for service with the American forces in France. This aircraft remained in service with the Army until 1932. As time went on, new equipment was received and parachutes were issued. Cross country flights were beginning to be made without relying on railroad lines.
However, in 1923, the 136th Observation Squadron was re-designated as the 105th Observation Squadron and the unit began receiving O-2 observation planes in 1926. And in 1927, the unit began flying operations at another airfield, McConnell Field; which is located just west of downtown Nashville. The hanger was moved to the new field, as well.
The ten year period of 1928-1938 involved frequent changes in assigned aircraft for the unit and also included the unit actually being disbanded for a few months from late 1930 to early 1931. During this time, the Squadron would fly the Curtiss O-11 Falcon and O-17 in 1928, then the Douglas O-38 in 1931.
This year also marked the third move for the unit, this time to Sky Harbor Airport, near Murfreesboro, TN. There, the Squadron shared hanger space with Interstate Airways, which is now known as American Airlines. This move was due to McConnell Field being unable to pass new Army standards. After several years at this station, air traffic had increased so rapidly that the need for space would force the Squadron to leave.
In 1935, the unit received the Douglas O-25. This year, construction also began for an airport in Nashville along Dixie Highway, now Murfreesboro Road. The airport was dedicated in 1936 and officially opened in 1937. It was named Berry Field in honor of Colonel Harry S. Berry, State Administrator of the Works Progress Administration. Berry Field became a military base during World War II for the 4th Ferrying Command. Additional acreage for its operations wasn't added until after the war, in 1946. Berry Field was one of the finest airports in the United States of its time, and is the Squadron's well-earned permanent home.
By 1938, the Squadron had completed its move to Berry Field and the 105th was now utilizing the North American O-47 aircraft. This was the unit's first operational single wing aircraft. It was still an observation plane, but replaced the biplanes. These aircraft were used during World War II primarily for towing targets, coastal patrol, and antisubmarine patrol.
By 1939, 14 members of the 105th Squadron had lost their lives in the performance of duty. Back then, there were no provisions to care for these emergencies, so the 105th financed the burial of its dead.
After summer maneuvers in Louisiana, in 1940, the Squadron was called to Active Duty. The unit and its members were sent to Fort Jackson, SC, and were assigned to the newly organized 65th Observation Group using O-52 "Owl" aircraft.
Members of the 105th were a source of trained personnel and experienced pilots as America entered World War II. These Servicemembers made history around the world flying a variety of missions, including observation antisubmarine patrol, reconnaissance and bombardment. The unit also continued transitioning through various aircraft, including the Martin B-10 bomber, the Vega Ventura B-34, and the North American B-25G Mitchell Bomber.
From 1943-1945, the servicemen of the 105th gained distinction in the Pacific Campaign, flying over 100 combat missions with the B-25 against Japanese targets. Over the course of the war, they were re-designated as the 820th Bomb Squadron and assigned to the 41st Bomb Group, 7th Air Force.
After the war, the Tennessee Guardsmen returned to Nashville and the famed 105th was reactivated as the 105ht Fighter Squadron, and was assigned to the 118th Fighter Group in 1947. The unit was now flying the Republic P-47 "Thunderbolt." This aircraft was one of the main U.S Army Air Forces fighters during World War II. By this time, the unit had received 25 P-47s as well as various additional support aircraft.
In 1951, the Group was re-designated as the 118th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, and the now 105th Fighter Interceptor Squadron was activated in place during the early part of that year. While on Active Duty, it operated two geographically separated units. Detachment 1 flew the P-47 from McGhee-Tyson Airport in Knoxville, TN, and provided air defense for the Atomic Energy Commission at Oak Ridge. Detachment 2 was the 467th Ground Observer Squadron based in Smyrna, TN.
In 1952 the unit was released from Active Duty and reformed in Nashville to its present facilitates on Knapp Boulevard, and Berry Field remains the name of the Air National Guard complex there today.
In 1952, the 118th TRW consisted of the 105th Squadron, and had units in Memphis, TN; Little Rock, AR; and Fort Smith, AR, all flying the North American P-51 Mustang from 1953 to 1955. The units then flew the Lockheed RF-80C "Shooting Star" until 1956m and the Republic RF-84F "Thunderflash" from then to 1961.
The Wing converted to its airlift mission in 1961, flying the Boeing C-97G "Stratofreighter." The unit was now named the 118th Military Airlift Wing.
In 1967, they converted to the Douglas C-124C "Globemaster II" transport aircraft. The Wing converted to the Lockheed C-130 A "Hercules" and became the 118th Tactical Airlift Wing in 1971.
The unit was recognized for its achievements and was awarded the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award in 1978, and doubled its number of aircraft the following year. For now, the C-130 was here to stay. Over the next ten years, the unit supported a worldwide tactical airlift mission, participating in exercises such as Brave Shield, Brim Frost and Red Flag. Rotations to Panama in support of Operation Volant Oak began in 1977 and became routine. These missions were accomplished with some of the oldest aircraft in the inventory since the A models were built in 1954 to 1957.
"My greatest and best memory of my term as the Commander of the 105th is the 16 ship formation flown on October 3, 1987," said Retired Col. Ben "Benjo" Welch, Jr.
"It all started when Gen. Follis mentioned that all our C-130 A models would be on the field and available," Welch recounted. "I immediately began that planning and coordinating to make it happen."
That formation was a first of its kind for the unit and so far as been the only one, ever. "The event demanded an actual airdrop mission which was developed simultaneously with the coordination process," said Welch. "Army Reserve Special Forces units in the area were eager to participate and provided the jumpers that made the mission a personnel airdrop mission."
"The mission would be an Old Hickory Squadron salute and statement of appreciation to greater Middle Tennessee," he added.
The 16 aircraft flew over various locations across Tennessee that day, including over an MTSU football game.
"My navigator, Jim Perkinson, tuned in the radio broadcast of the game and we heard the announcers give a plane by plane account of the flyover, reporting that the game had been halted while the players, officials and everyone in attendance stood to watch the event," recalled Welch.
The older aircraft were finally replaced in 1990, as the unit entered another conversion process. This time they received new C-130H models from Lockheed.
The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, placed the largest demand on 118th personnel since they first began. The Wing mobilized more than 450 personnel during 21 deployments for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. They flew a record of 7,239 flying hours in Southwest Asia during this period.
The unit was named the 118th Airlift Wing, as it is still known today, in 1992. With more than 1,400 personnel in Nashville, it was one of the largest units in the Air National Guard at this time.
Following September 11, over a third of the Wing was activated for a year or more in support of Operation Noble Eagle. After that the unit was selected to deploy to Southwest Asia to support CENTCOM Operations.
In 2003, the unit deployed ten C-130s and more than 300 personnel to the Middle East in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Servicemen and women of the 118th supported combat operations into and out of Baghdad and surrounding areas of Iraq. They were the lead Wing in establishing a bare base in support of the largest contingent of C-130s ever based in a combat environment, with more than 46 at a single base deploying to various locations in Iraq, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
The unit returned home in 2003, but again deployed later that same year to Uzbekistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Due to the Department of Defense Base Realignment and Closure Recommendations in 2005, the unit is scheduled to distribute its remaining C-130 aircraft among the Illinois and Kentucky Air National Guards.
In 2007, an amendment to BRAC 2005 was announced and the 118th would continue to retain a flying mission, transitioning from the Air Mobility Command to the Air Education and Training Command as the C-130 International Training Center. Today, the Wing is responsible for training close to 150 international military C-130E and C-130H flight crew and maintenance students annually. The first class of international C-130 students trained by the 118th AW graduated in October 2008.