AP NEWS

Kingsley Field marks two anniversaries

June 28, 2016 GMT

Against the backdrop of an American flag and the commemorative F-15 Eagle, Kingsley Field celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Oregon Air National Guard and the 20th anniversary of the activation of the 173rd Fighter Wing on Monday.

The ceremony showcased the history of the Oregon Air National Guard and the present mission at the unit.

Brig. Gen. David Ward, former Oregon Air National Guard Commander, and Col. Billy Cox, former 173rd Fighter Wing Commander, spoke first to the crowd of airmen in the hangar about their contributions at the start of the 173rd Fighter Wing.

“I was worried that it could be the end of the organization,” Cox said of his time as commander at Kingsley Field in 1989, when he oversaw the transition of the unit from the 114th Fighter Squadron to a stand-alone Air Guard flying unit.

The 173rd Fighter Wing at Kingsley Field was activated on June 27, 1996.

Twenty years after its activation, with 40 jets on the ramp and more than 1,000 airmen at the unit, current Commander Col. Jeff Smith does not fear for the future of the unit.

“This year we’ve flown about five thousand hours, but next year we’ll break 5,600,” Smith said. “It’s going to get busy and it’s going to continue to be busy.”

Smith, commander of the unit since April 2015, is confident about the future of the F-15.

“As we look at this aging air frame, we have to think of what’s next. Because right now we don’t have a replacement for this airplane,” Smith said. “They don’t have enough, so that means they have to invest in us and we have to move forward.”

Smith thanked Ward and Cox for their contributions to the unit.

“Thank you for keeping us going when it looked like maybe we were going to be less,” Smith said. “I can’t tell you how much we’ve learned from what you’ve done and how proud we are of what you’ve done. Due to the foundation of excellence that these two men have laid, if this airplane is in jeopardy, I’m not worried at all. Our mission is safe.”

As for the commemorative F-15 Eagle plane, Smith said the paint job represents Kingsley Field.

“The first design was pretty small, so I said, ‘I think we can go a bit bigger. This is a big deal, the 75th anniversary. It only comes once,’” Smith said. “And Paul came back with this design and we are so proud of it. It represents Kingsley Field because if you ask someone here to do something that’s small, you don’t get something small. You get something absolutely amazing.”

The 173rd Fighter Wing at Kingsley Field is responsible for training the best air-to-air combat pilots in the world.