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537th AS Airmen fly again after 40 years

by Senior Airman Christopher Gross
3rd Wing Public Affairs

5/10/2011 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska (AFNS) -- It's been more than 40 years since 537th Airlift Squadron pilots have taken flight. That hiatus came to an end in early May, soon after first the 537th AS was reactivated May 6. 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 the pilots flew the C-7 Caribou. Three members from the crew that was stationed in South Vietnam attended the activation ceremony here, and Lt. Col. Thomas McGee, the 537th AS commander, 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," Colonel McGee said.

Colonel 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 who fly C-130 Hercules, 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," Colonel McGee said. "So basically, it's 'one team, one fight.'"

The 537th AS, an active-duty unit, will be made up of approximately 100 personnel and will team up with the 144th AS, an Alaska Air National Guard squadron, officials said. Airmen of the 537th AS will be using the Guard's aircraft, and they'll fly integrated flights with each other.

Airmen and equipment of the 144th AS arrived just a couple months ago, with eight C-130s coming from Kulis Air National Guard Base, officials said. In the coming months, the 144th AS officials expect 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," Colonel McGee said.

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

"We're starting from scratch," Colonel Knight said. "The 144th has been awesome -- we've leaned heavily on those guys and the processes they have in place."

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

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

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

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