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Oldest U.S. military flying unit celebrates centennial

by Senior Airman Shawn Nickel
9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

3/12/2013 - BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The 1st Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., celebrated its 100th anniversary March 7-9 as the oldest flying unit in U.S. military aviation.

The squadron opened its doors to the base populace and special guests for tours, and two days of historical symposiums were held featuring former SR-71 Black Bird pilots, commanders and history experts.

In addition, a plaque was dedicated to the squadron at Heritage Park, and a military dining-out commemorated the event.

"It's an honor to be part of this historic occasion," said current 1st RS commander Lt. Col. Stephen Rodriguez. "We stand on the shoulders of giants here as we continue the proud tradition of providing [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] to war fighters."

One speaker at the symposiums, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Patrick Halloran, was one of the first pilots for the U-2 and SR-71. Halloran gave vivid descriptions of missions during the Cold War, training and being commander of the 1st RS.

"The U-2 and SR-71 are the biggest long-term contributors to the 1st," he said. "Those two airplanes made tremendous contributions to history, and I am proud to have been part of this outfit."

Paintings of 1st RS aircraft, unveiled for the Air Force Art Program, were donated and prints were sold during symposiums to help supplement the cost of the celebration.

"These presentations were a very interesting perspective into the history of the 1st RS and the history of aerial reconnaissance from some of the top experts in the field," said Col. (Ret.) Dave Pinsky, Pacific Coast Air Museum executive director and former 9th Reconnaissance Wing commander.

The plaque at Heritage Park rest in the shadow of an SR-71 static display and reads, "This site honors the men and women of the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, oldest flying unit in the United States military, and commemorates its unbroken heritage since its founding on the 5th of March 1913."

The squadron has maintained an unbroken heritage from its founding. Originally organized in anticipation of a potential breach in security along the border between the U.S. and Mexico, General John Pershing directed the 1st Aero Squadron to become the first tactical aviation unit to participate in American military action.

The 1st RS has flown 47 different airframes while being stationed worldwide at 52 locations, including four stints at sea.

Col. Phil Stewart, current 9th RW commander, noted that the events were held without using Air Force funds, as funding came from registration fees, ticket fees, memento sales and donations.

"Much of this wouldn't have been possible without the donations from the local community, and the countless hours volunteers put into planning," he said. "I have never been more proud to be part of a celebration and am continuously impressed by our Airmen."

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