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News > New horizons above the banks of the Mississippi: The 164th Airlift Wing, the C-17 Globemaster III and the road to the future paved by global reach
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C-17 aircraft arrives at the 164th Airlift Wing
The first C-17 Globemaster aircraft delivered to the Tennessee Air National Guard's 164th Airlift Wing lands at Memphis International Airport. The C-17 Globemaster is a new era for the Tennessee Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech.Sgt. Robin Olsen)
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New horizons above the banks of the Mississippi: The 164th Airlift Wing, the C-17 Globemaster III and the road to the future paved by global reach

Posted 2/13/2013   Updated 2/13/2013 Email story   Print story


by Niki Gentry
Tennessee National Guard Joint Public Affairs Office

2/13/2013 - MEMPHIS, Tenn.  -- On a cold February afternoon, Tennessee's 164th Air Wing was once again poised on the edge of historic change and opportunity to serve the nation and state. Local, state and national dignitaries, airmen assigned to the base and friends of the Wing witnessed the delivery of its first C-17 Globemaster III aircraft ushering in a new era for the Tennessee Air National Guard, the city of Memphis and continuing the proud saga of a great air wing.

"This is one of the proudest days in my service as the adjutant general for Tennessee," said Maj. Gen. Terry "Max" Haston, as he observed the new aircraft in the hangar at the Memphis Air National Guard Base. "After a very long, arduous journey and the diligent work by so many, the results of our efforts rest before us today."

"I'm reminded of the long standing aviation tradition here in West Tennessee. From the legendary tale of the Memphis Belle to this new and exciting mission, what a great day for our Guard and the citizens of the state," Haston added. "I can only imagine how proud American heroes like Tech. Sgt. Robert Hanson would be if he knew the nose art of his B-17 will continue to be memorialized on these incredible modern day assets."

The general was referencing the last crew member of the Memphis Belle, who passed away in 2005 and served on the first B-17 aircraft to successfully complete 25 missions over Europe during World War II.

General Haston thanked the families and airmen of the 164th Airlift Wing as well as the federal, state and local leaders to include Gov. Bill Haslam, Senators Alexander and Corker, Congressmen Cohen, Fincher, Cooper and Congresswoman Blackburn for their support. He also recognized the vital support of the National Guard Association of the United States under the leadership of former Tennessee Adjutant Gen. Gus Hargett.

Also among the dignitaries at the inaugural ceremony was Gen. Paul Selva, commander of the Air Force's Air Mobility Command. Selva expressed that the aircraft in the hangar was, "an empty shell, with no heart, yet the men and women of the Wing will give it personality... (and) in every airman of the 164th beats the heart beat of the Memphis Belle. The sweat and effort of everyone in the room will make that aircraft so excellent a machine."

Brig. Gen. James Witham, the Deputy Director of the Air National Guard stated that he knew the "164th Airlift Wing would rise to the occasion of the transition and provide efficient stewardship of the nation's resources."

He also reiterated the critical contribution the aircraft would make for the response to both federal and state missions in the event of natural disasters and other contingencies.

In his comments, Brig. Gen. Don Johnson, Tennessee's assistant adjutant general stated," the arrival of the C-17's in Memphis represents the sincere sense of unity, faith and trust in our relationship between the active duty Air Force and the Air National Guard. The aircraft will provide mission longevity for the 164th Airlift Wing and carry its legacy well into the 21st Century. Memphis is only the third Air National Guard unit in the United States to receive C-17 aircraft." Gen. Johnson stated that the aircraft also provided a critical role for support of domestic support in the state and nation due to the flexibility of the aircrafts' capabilities. The loss of C-130 aircraft in middle Tennessee left a void in the Guard's capability to provide airlift in the event of disasters or other contingencies in the state. The C-17 can carry a large payload and land on very short runways compared to the larger C-5's that were greatly limited by their size and landing site restrictions.

Col. Mark Devine, commander of the 164th reemphasized the significant difference in the age of the aircraft and the benefit of the newer assets available to the unit. "The C-17 is 20 years younger than the C-5 and is designed with a more modern way to do the mission. It's easier to use, more reliable and more capable... it can get into difficult places quicker and is the backbone of the Air Force." He stated personnel involved in the new unit mission would undergo, "less change, with more evolution into an advanced airframe that is more capable of defending itself." Devine is very proud to be leading the unit into this new chapter in its diverse history.

Nan Bouchard, Boeing Corporation vice president of program management for the C-17 stated, "Today we welcome the 'Belle' of a new era built on a long standing tradition of distinguished service that goes back 70 years" in that the B-17 was also a Boeing airframe. Ms. Bouchard then presented the 164th and Tennessee National Guard leadership with scale models of the new aircraft.

Tracing its roots back to 1946, the 164th Airlift Wing began its mission flying the famous P-51D Mustang that was instrumental in the aerial victory against the Axis powers during World War II. The 155th Fighter Squadron, the precursor to the 164th Airlift Wing, also participated in numerous daring aerial precision flying events until called into action supporting reconnaissance missions during the Korean Conflict in 1951. The next several decades witnessed missions spanning global conflicts in southeast Asia, Operations Desert Storm and Shield and the Global War on Terrorism.

The 164th Airlift Wing has flown nine different aircraft over its illustrious history from their first observation and reconnaissance mission to today's global airlift. The most recent missions flown by the Airlift Wing were conducted using the fleet of massive C-5A Galaxy. The aging C-5 fleet and the cost to maintain the aircraft required the Air Force to develop a new, more cost efficient airframe in conjunction with Boeing resulting in the production of the C-17 Globemaster.

Since the first flight of the P-51D over the majestic Mississippi River flowing along the banks of West Tennessee to the powerful airlift flexibility of the C-17 to fly around the globe, the 164th Airlift Wing continues to be a vital asset to Tennessee and the nation. The exceptional airmen of the Wing have proven throughout their illustrious history their ability to adapt and meet the challenges before them in times of war and peace. The citizens of Memphis and indeed the nation are now witnessing the dawning of a new era in the history of an exceptional Airlift Wing tirelessly defending the causes of freedom around the world by providing global support for the 21st Century and beyond.

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