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Brooks City-Base, Texas
Brooks AFB, Texas

Brooks City BaBase, Texas is located in southeast San Antonio, Texas, in Bexar County and is approximately 10 miles from downtown San Antonio. Brooks City-Base involves a partnership between the Air Force and the City of San Antonio. Under the partnership, Brooks Air Force Base provided property to the City for economic development, and the City was to provide municipal and other services to the base to allow it to focus more efficiently on its military mission. Brooks City-Base served the Air Force demonstration project directed by the U.S. Congress to significantly reduce base operating support costs, maintain the flexibility to meet current and future mission requirements, and enhance mission capabilities through the creation of public and private partnerships

Headquartered at Brooks, the 311th Human Systems Wing is the Air Force advocate for integrating and maintaining the person in Air Force systems and operations. Its mission is to protect and enhance human capabilities and human-systems performance ranging from the individual to combatant command forces. HSW has four areas of responsibility: Aerospace Medicine, Crew Systems, Human Resources, and Environment, Safety and Occupational Health.

The history of Brooks AFB parallels the history of military aviation and aviation medicine in the United States. After the United States entered World War I, in 1917, the U.S. Army recognized the need for trained flying instructors. San Antonio was chosen for a year-round training site due to its favorable climate, good water supply and convenient transportation facilities.

The Chamber of Commerce assembled an 873-acre tract southeast of the city near Berg's Mill and offered it as the site for the new aviation field. The site was originally called Gosport Field, a name derived from the flight instruction system used at the new base. On Dec. 5, 1917, the Army named the site Kelly Field No. 5, and on Dec. 8, ground breaking ceremonies were held. On Feb. 4, 1918, the new facility was renamed Brooks Field in honor of Cadet Sidney J. Brooks Jr., a native of San Antonio. He had died on Nov. 13, 1917, during his final training flight when his aircraft turned nose down and crashed at Kelly Field No.2. He was awarded his wings and commission posthumously.

The first aircraft flown from the new Brooks Field Mar. 28, 1918, was a Curtiss JN-4D "Jenny" of World War I fame, piloted by Maj. Leo A. Walton. During its first year of operation, Brooks Field consisted of 16 hangars with extensive support facilities. Of these early buildings, Hangar 9, now the Edward H. White II Memorial, is the only structure still in existence.

In May 1919, the pilot instructor school was closed and a Balloon and Airship School was opened for pilots and ground crew members. A huge 91,000-square-foot airship hangar was constructed. However, a series of mishaps in operating the hydrogen-filled craft led to the transfer of the school from Brooks to Scott Field on June 26, 1922.

Brooks then became home to the Primary Flying School of the Army Air Corps from September 1922 through July 1931. More than 1,400 pilots were trained during those years and graduates included such notable aviation figures as Generals Claire L. Chennault, Thomas D. White, Nathan F. Twining, and Col. Charles A. Lindbergh.

Also during this period, the School of Aviation Medicine was moved from Mitchel Field, N.Y., to Brooks. The flying school was a source for aviation medicine research and, in turn, the School of Aviation Medicine provided a means to screen, examine and upgrade the caliber of cadets being trained at Brooks. Both organizations were transferred to the newly constructed Randolph Field in October 1931.

On Sept. 28, 1929, Brooks was the site for the first successful mass parachute drop in the world. The concept, conceived and implemented at Brooks, confirmed the practicality of tactical paratrooper warfare. The concept proved its value during World War II. During the 1930s, Brooks was the center of aerial observation activity and several units were trained in tactical observation. In 1940, Brooks became the site for a special school for combat observers. In 1941, advanced training in piloting single-engine aircraft was conducted with emphasis on aerial observation skills. Observation training was discontinued in August 1943, when Brooks became the home for training pilots in the "new" B-25 bomber. This remained the mission of the base for the rest of World War II.

When pilot training at Brooks Field concluded at the end of World War II, the base took on a new mission. In September 1951 in the midst of the Korean War, the Air Force established a reserve training center at Brooks Air Force Base. The 907th Air Reserve Wing was assigned to the center. Conceived originally as a troop carrier unit, the wing did not receive its first planes until the summer of 1952. The planes were T-6 Texans, an indication of the 907th's new mission, pilot training.

Almost before it began its new mission, the 907th Air Reserve Wing was replaced by the 8707th Pilot Training Wing (Single-Engine). On the first anniversary of its activation, the 8707th had six T-6s and two C-46 Commandoes assigned. That began to change in April 1953 when the wing acquired its first five North American T-28s.

In 1954 Colonel David L. "Tex" Hill, a fighter pilot who made his reputation as a member of Chennault's Flying Tigers, took over the wing's pilot training program. At year's end the wing converted to C-46s and the 8707th was replaced by the 433d Troop Carrier Wing.

In 1956 reservists celebrated their fifth anniversary at Brooks with the arrival of another aircraft, the C-119 transport. Four years later, the 433d Troop Carrier Wing moved to Kelly AFB. From the time the Reserve first established a wing at Brooks in 1951, whatever the numerical designation, the people of San Antonio have always referred to the unit as the Alamo Wing.

During the late 1950s, Brooks was transformed from a flying training center to a center for modern medical research and development and education center. The transition started in the summer of 1959 when the School of Aviation Medicine returned to Brooks from Randolph AFB. Brooks became the headquarters for the Aerospace Medical Center on Oct. 1, 1959.

An era in aviation history ended on June 20, 1960, when the last plane took off from Brooks. The aircraft was a C-131 "Samaritan" piloted by Col. L.B. Matthews, commander of Det. 1, 1st Aeromedical Transport Group.

The Aerospace Medical Center represented the initial step in placing the management of aerospace medical research, education and clinical practice under one command. In recognition of its participation in the United States space program, the school's title was changed to School of Aerospace Medicine in May 1961, and both the school and center were reassigned from Air Training Command to Air Force Systems Command in Nov. 1961, and assigned to the new organization, the Aerospace Medical Division.

On Nov. 21, 1963, President John F. Kennedy dedicated four buildings in the complex that housed the Aerospace Medical Division headquarters and the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine. This was his last official act before his assassination in Dallas the following day.

The aerospace era placed new demands on medical research and education, particularly in space medicine. Research efforts at the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine were instrumental in making manned space flight a reality. Researchers continued to study man's interaction with the aerospace environment, seeking ways to maximize a pilot's ability to use modern, high performance aircraft. Flight simulation devices, the centrifuge, altitude chambers, lasers and other specially developed equipment, enabled researchers to perform laboratory studies of man's tolerances in the aerospace environment.

In the early 1980s, other organizations relocated to Brooks AFB. Among them were the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory and the USAF Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory. In addition to the Air Force Office of Medical Support, Brooks became home to the Air Force Drug Testing Laboratory and the Air Force Systems Command's Systems Acquisition School.

A new Schriever Heritage Park, named for Gen. Bernard A. Schriever, first commander of Air Force Systems Command, was dedicated on Oct. 7, 1986, during the celebration of Aerospace Medical Division's 25th Anniversary. The Aerospace Medical Division was redesignated the Human Systems Division on Feb. 6, 1987.

In November 1987, Brooks celebrated its 70th anniversary. During the celebration the Sidney J. Brooks Jr. Memorial Park was dedicated. This area, along with Schriever Heritage Park, provides a quiet beauty to the base and offers a spot for remembrance of the heritage that is Brooks AFB.

The 1990s ushered in a new era. For several years the Department of Defense had been looking for leaner, and smarter cost-saving ways to do business. However, this process was intensified with the unexpected collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the demise of the Russian empire. Americans expected a peace dividend--a reduction in defense spending. Downsizing became the key word, but Brooks AFB continued to grow.

In 1991 four of its laboratories--the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory, the Air Force Drug Testing Laboratory, the Harry G. Armstrong Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory, and the Air Force Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory, as well as the laboratory function of the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine--combined to became the Armstrong Laboratory, one of four super laboratories in the Air Force.

Also, the Air Force Center for Environmental Excellence was formed and located at Brooks. This organization has the monumental task of restoring closing installations to their original state and of ensuring that future installations are environmentally safe.

Consolidations continued in 1992 with the merging of the Air Force Systems Command and the Air Force Logistics Command into a new organization called the Air Force Materiel Command. As a part of the new command, the Human Systems Division at Brooks again changed its name to the Human Systems Center. Although the Air Force continues to shrink, it will be flexible enough to respond on short notice to a wide range of regional crises and contingencies



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