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115th Fighter Wing celebrates 65-year heritage

People gathered in Hanger 406 at Truax Field to celebrate the 115th Fighter Wing's 65th anniversary, Sept. 7, in Madison, Wis. The unit, which was established in September of 1948, celebrated its anniversary over the September unit training assembly. (Air National Guard Photo by 1st Lt. Stephen Montgomery)

People gathered in Hanger 406 at Truax Field to celebrate the 115th Fighter Wing's 65th anniversary, Sept. 7, in Madison, Wis. The unit, which was established in September of 1948, celebrated its anniversary over the September unit training assembly. (Air National Guard Photo by 1st Lt. Stephen Montgomery)

A Wisconsin Air National Guard honor guard prepares to present the colors during the 115th Fighter Wing's anniversary celebration at Truax Field, Madison, Wis., Sept. 7. The unit, which was established in September of 1948, celebrated its 65th anniversary over the September unit training assembly.(Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Stephen Montgomery)

A Wisconsin Air National Guard honor guard prepares to present the colors during the 115th Fighter Wing's anniversary celebration at Truax Field, Madison, Wis., Sept. 7. The unit, which was established in September of 1948, celebrated its 65th anniversary over the September unit training assembly.(Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Stephen Montgomery)

Members of the 115th Fighter Wing and their guests socialize at table as they wait for the presentation of colors during the fighter wing's anniversary celebration at Truax Field, Madison, Wis., Sept. 7. The unit, which was established in September of 1948, celebrated its 65th anniversary over the September unit training assembly. (Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Stephen Montgomery)

Members of the 115th Fighter Wing and their guests socialize at table as they wait for the presentation of colors during the fighter wing's anniversary celebration at Truax Field, Madison, Wis., Sept. 7. The unit, which was established in September of 1948, celebrated its 65th anniversary over the September unit training assembly. (Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Stephen Montgomery)

Madison, Wis. -- More than 400 Airmen, retirees, elected officials and local business leaders gathered in Hangar 406 at the 115th Fighter Wing Sept. 7 to celebrate 65 years of the Wisconsin Air National Guard in Madison, Wis.

"It was an awesome event," Senior Airman Andrea Liechti said. "I've only been on this base for a little over a year - I had no idea the generations of Airmen before me had accomplished so much."

The 176th Fighter Squadron, an F-51 Mustang unit, was organized at Truax Field on Sept. 18, 1948. The squadron would later fly the F-89A Scorpion, the F-86A Sabre and the F-102 Delta Dagger. During that time, the 176th transitioned from a stand-by reserve force to a fully participating member of the North American air defense mission - for the nine years it flew the Dagger, 176th pilots and crews were on a round-the-clock five-minute alert commitment. In 1972 it was recognized as the finest F-102 unit in the U.S. Air Force.

The 176th converted from a combat to support role in 1974. Redesignated as the 176th Tactical Air Support Squadron, the unit flew the O-2 Skymaster, a propellor-engine observation aircraft. Five years later the squadron was among the first to become Jet Forward Air Control with the OA-37 Dragonfly.

The 176th regained its fighter mission in 1981, gaining the A-10 Thunderbolt II and a new designation as the 128th Tactical Fighter Wing. Ten years later the 128th became the first fighter unit, active or reserve, in the history of the Tactical Air Command to receive an "Outstanding" rating for a unit effectiveness inspection.

In 1992 the 128th became the 128th Fighter Wing and converted to the F-16 Fighting Falcons, gaining aerospace control and force application roles. Three years later the 128th Fighter Wing became the 115th Fighter Wing. Its first combat missions came in 1997 and 1998 with deployments to Turkey and Kuwait to enforce the northern and southern no-fly zones over Iraq as part of Operation Southern Watch.

The 115th Fighter Wing began supporting the global war on terror on Sept. 11, 2001 by providing homeland defense under the operational command of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) - the first time since 1974 that the Madison-based squadron was given a round-the-clock alert commitment.

"We've been executing that mission 24/7 and 365 since 9/11," said Col. Jeffrey Wiegand, 115th commander. "The Airmen who work here have the best training in the world - I'm impressed every day with their dedication."

In addition to the homeland defense mission, the 115th Fighter Wing supported Operation Iraqi Freedom, deploying to Southwest Asia in support of the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing in 2004, and to Joint Base Balad, Iraq in 2006, 2008 and 2009.

In 2005 and 2006 the 115th Fighter Wing supported Operation Jump Start and Hurricane Katrina relief. The unit earned an "Outstanding" rating in the 2005 Unit Compliance Inspection with a nearly-perfect score of 99.4 percent. Five years later it would narrowly beat that score with a 99.5 percent.

Years of experience and a variety of skills were on display at the Fighter Wing base Sept. 7 - an F-16, weapons and equipment from the 115th Security Forces, a fire truck from Truax Fire and Crash Rescue, a medical tent and the unit's explosive ordnance disposal team.

Maj. Michael Palmer, one of the committee event's co-chairs, lauded the event planner's months of coordination.

"We really wanted to honor the heritage of this unit," Palmer said.

And part of that heritage, Wiegand said, is its location.

"This is our community," he said. "We are Citizen Airmen, and are proud to be an important part of the community."
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