New Mexico Air National Guard
A Brief History of the 150th Fighter Group/188th Fighter Squadron
Webmaster Note: This article was written as background of the New Mexico Air National Guard for a convention in Albuquerque in 1995. Much has happened since then so bear in mind that the scope of this article is through early 1995.
In the Beginning...
The 188th Fighter-Bomber Squadron was federally recognized on 7 July 1947 and established at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. This unit consisted of three subordinate organizations: a Weather Station, the Fighter Squadron and the Utility Flight. The squadron, comprised of approximately 100 officers and airmen, received three T-6 Texans and 25 F-51 Mustangs. The Utility Flight was equipped with B-26 Invaders. During its first three years of operations, the 188th's mission was changed from Fighter-Bomber to Fighter-Interceptor and back several times.
Due to the escalating conflict in Korea, the 188th was activated on 1 February 1951. The squadron was activated with 54 officers and approximately 400 airmen. The 188th was initially assigned to Kirtland AFB as an air defense squadron and was given 30 days to become combat ready. Immediately upon activation, the Weather Detachment, Support Element, and Utility Flight were integrated into the active duty units of Kirtland Air Force Base. In 30 days the 188th was classed as combat ready and entered into a period of full alert status.
KOREA and Beyond
On 20 April 1951, the 188th deployed to Long Beach Municipal Airport, Long Beach, California. All 25 of the squadron's F-51s flew to Long Beach and stood alert for Air Defense Command (ADC) that same day.
Soon afterwards, members of the 188th were pulled from the unit for duty in Japan, Korea and other stations. The Air Force asked for qualified F-51 pilot volunteers to proceed to Korea immediately. Two pilots, 1st Lieutenants Robert J. Lucas and Joseph J. Murray volunteered. They were both killed in action in Korea while flying F-51s on close support missions. Twelve other pilots flew the F-51 Mustang over Korea. While in Long Beach, four 188th pilots were checked out in jets and then went on to Korea. Each completed over 100 missions in the F-86. Two additional pilots were sent to Alaska and flew jets. While in Korea, Captain (now Major retired) Francis A. Williams shot down three MiG-15 aircraft. 1st Lieutenant (now Colonel) Robert L. Sands also got three confirmed MiG-15 kills. One of Lieutenant Sands' kills, as depicted on his gun camera film, represented the best photo the USAF had of a MiG-15 at that time. In all, some 1,411 combat missions were flow over Korea by pilots of the New Mexico Air National Guard.
On 13 June 1952 the New Mexico Air National Guard was redesignated as the 8188th Air Base Squadron. This organization was established to absorb all former members after their discharge from the active duty Air Force. By October 1952 most of the officers and airmen had returned to New Mexico and the 8188 number designation was dropped. In November 1952, the unit became the 188th Fighter-lnterceptor Squadron and consisted of approximately 10 officers, 100 airmen, a C-47, a T-6, a few pencils and absolutely no facilities. Finally, the unit was given one small building on the northwest corner of Kirtland Air Force Base for an orderly room. The unit was also assigned a room in the Kirtland Base Operations hangar for a maintenance and operations office. These conditions continued for approximately six months until the unit moved to the west side of Kirtland. The squadron soon received four war-weary F-51s and two T-6's, plus many tons of new equipment and supplies. This very different from the equipment that the unit had received between World War II and the Korean conflict - everything delivered was new...except aircraft.
Into the Jet Age
In August 1953, the 188th received their first jet aircraft - the F-80 Shooting Star. Between 1953-1957, the 188th was one of three squadrons which made up the 140th Wing, with headquarters in Denver, Colorado. During each of these five years the 188th won top honors in every air-to-air gunnery meet conducted by the 140th Wing. In the Fall of 1954 each of the 27 Air National Guard Wings sent a gunnery team to Boise, Idaho. These teams competed to select the Guard's entry in the Air Force's world-wide gunnery meet at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada in 1955. The team from the 140th Wing won the Boise meet hands down. They then placed second in the Air Force's world-wide meet. In 1957, the 188th was presented the Spaatz Trophy and the Air Force Association Trophy for being the outstanding tactical unit of the Air National Guard for the period 1 January 1956 through 31 December 1956.
In January 1958, the 188th was selected to become the first squadron in the Air National Guard to receive the F-100 Super Sabre. The first two F-100F trainers arrived in March 1958, followed by a mass flight of 12 F-100As in April. The "Enchilada Air Force", as the 188th is nicknamed, grew from a Fighter Squadron to a Fighter Interceptor Group in 1960. The make-up of the Group was: Headquarters 150th Fighter Group, 188th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 150th Maintenance Squadron, 150th Material Squadron, 150th Air Base Squadron, and 150th USAF Dispensary. This conversion raised unit strength to 956 officers and airmen.
In April 1961 an unfortunate accident put the New Mexico Air National Guard on the front page of newspapers all over the world. An aircraft malfunction caused a Sidewinder missile to launch and shoot down a B-52 bomber near Grants, New Mexico. The F-100 pilot was absolved of any blame.
In the fall of 1962 the Cuban Crisis put the 150th on an alert status that lasted for 90 days. Later, the 150th was reassigned from Air Defense Command to Tactical Air Command. With this new mission came a new aircraft. In 1964, the unit's F-100As were replaced with F-100Cs - an aircraft better equipped to handle the world-wide mission requirements levied on the New Mexico Air National Guard.
The PUEBLO and VIETNAM
On 26 January 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson recalled the New Mexico Air National Guard to active duty due to increasing international tension and the seizing of the intelligence gathering ship, USS Pueblo, by North Korea. In May 1968, the 150th Tactical Fighter Group (TFG) received its first order for movement. The 188th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS), with over 360 officers and airmen with 22 aircraft, was deployed to Tuy Hoa Air Base, Republic of Vietnam. The US Air Force airlifted all support personnel to Vietnam on C-141s, while NMANG pilots required three days and 13 aerial refuelings to ferry their F-100s across the 11,000 miles between Albuquerque and Tuy Hoa Air Base.
While in Vietnam, the NMANG lost one pilot, Capt. Michael T. Adams, and two pilots were listed as missing in action: Major Bobby Neeld and Lt. Michel S. Lane. During their twelve months in Vietnam, the 188th TFS flew over 6000 sorties and accumulated the following decorations:
- 8 Silver Stars
- 29 Distinguished Flying Crosses
- 26 Bronze Stars
- 270 Air Medals
- 3 Purple Hearts
- The Air Force Outstanding Unit Award
- The Presidential Unit Citation
- The Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Palm
- 3 Vietnamese Gallantry Crosses with Silver Stars
- Vietnamese Air Service Medal, Honor Class
- 289 Air Force Commendation Medals
- Army Commendation Medal
NMANG personnel returned to Albuquerque during May/June 1969, and was officially deactivated on 4 June 1969. While most NMANG personnel were on active duty in many different parts of the world, there was a handful of men still in New Mexico performing as a housekeeping force and keeping the NMANG at Kirtland AFB operational. An intensive recruiting effort by these men boosted its strength by 29 officers and 194 airmen by the return from active duty in June 1969. The strength of the unit now totaled 663 men. A substantial number of guardsmen decided to remain in the unit even though they had the option of leaving the guard following active duty.
Early in 1971, a new mission was awarded to the 150th. The "Enchilada Air Force" took over the regular Air Force's systems evaluation program at Holloman AFB. The 188th TFS maintained a detachment of F-100Cs at Holloman AFB to provide tactical training support to the US Army's radar and anti-aircraft schools at Fort Bliss, Texas.
In 1974, the 150th TFG was selected to become the first Air Guard unit to receive the A-7D Corsair II. The A-7D had been combat proven in Southeast Asia and was designed for close air support. It could attack at low levels, had high speed/low altitude maneuverability, and was able to accurately bomb at a maximum speed of 500 mph. This represented a major shift in policy within the USAF. Air National Guard units were traditionally given aircraft no longer used within the active duty squadrons, but not only was the A-7D still on active duty, but still under production!.
In 1977, the unit's possession of the A-7D opened the door for another experience. The 150th and its parent wing, the 140th Tactical Fighter Wing (Colorado Air National Guard), participated in "Coronet Ante", a part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO's) "Coldfire" exercise in Europe. The Warsaw Pact had increased the quality and quantity of its land, sea, and air weapons systems; and the USSR's military seemed to be moving from a defensive to more offensive power. The A-7D was part of NATO's efforts to provide an effective deterrent to USSR/Eastern European pressures. The 150th TFG deployed nine A-7Ds to Gilse Rijen Air Base, The Netherlands, from 2 September through 27 September 1977. This was the first introductory mission for the A-7D in coordination with NATO forces. The objective was to accomplish a well organized joint mission. Missions were flown over The Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, and the North Sea. The goal of these close air support missions was to cover the operations of ground troops. The quality of NMANG performance during the "Coronet Ante" deployment received specific praise from the Commander of the Tactical Air Command, Lt. General James D. Hughes, for the "professional manner" in which the deployment was conducted, the "unparalleled...sortie rates", and work with the Royal Netherlands Air Force.
By 1979, the 150th TFG was very much a part of the "total force" concept of reserved armed forces - the unit had to be highly trained and immediately ready for worldwide duty at any time. The scope of the NMANG's mission was further extended when the unit became the first Air Guard fighter unit to join the new Rapid Deployment Force. This assignment led to the unit's involvement in the RDF's first exercise, "Bright Star 81" which took place at Cairo West Air Base, Egypt. The A-7D set a new flight endurance record of 11 hours from Pease AFB, New Hampshire, to Cairo West. "Bright Star 81" involved 190 NMANG members and eight A-7Ds. The NMANG flew 85 sorties in close air support for joint Egyptian military and US Army operations.
Because the 9th Air Force was assigned responsibility for the air dimension of the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (name changed in 1983 to United States Central Command/USCENTCOM), the 150th TFG was transferred on 1 August 1981 from the 12th Air Force to the 9th Air Force and was given a new parent wing, the 121st Tactical Fighter Wing (located at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base, Ohio). As part of USCENTCOM, in addition to normal activities, the NMANG has participated in a number of rapid mobilization deployments, such as frequent Gallant Eagle exercises, which involve the "bare base concept" (setting up an operational site ready for combat situations where little or nothing was present before). The 150th TFG is also a frequent participant in "Red Flag" exercises, and almost annually deployed to Howard Air Force Base, Panama.
In mid-1987, the 150th TFG would remain on the cutting edge of fighting capability, being the very first recipients of the Low-Altitude Night Attack (LANA) equipped A-7s. The single-seat A-7D and two-seat A-7K aircraft were modified to carry a special FLIR (forward-looking infra-red) pod on the inboard weapons station as well as an automatic terrain following system. Coupled with the Pave Penny laser seeker under the A-7's intake, the 150th now had the capability to deliver precision strikes anywhere, night or day.
The 150th won top honors at the 1989 Gunsmoke competition, walking away with the A-7 Top Team, Top Munitions, Top Aircraft, and several individual 'Top Gun' trophies. These awards gave the 150th the distinction of being the best A-7 unit in the USAF. Gunsmoke is a biennial competition held at Nellis AFB, Nevada, with teams from TAC, USAFE, PACAF, Alaskan Air Command, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserves. In 1989 teams representing the A-7, A-10, F-4, and F-16 communities all competing against each other. The 150th once again earned the right to compete in the 1991 Gunsmoke competition, the last time the A-7 would ever compete again. Gunsmoke '91 also marked the first year of competition for the F-111 and F-15E communities. Major Dave Walker won the A-7 Top Gun award, and the 150th placed in numerous categories. Not bad for a 25 year old aircraft and a "can do" attitude.
Enter the VIPER
In 1994, the 150th TFG traded in their A-7s for the F-16 Fighting Falcon. In fact, 150th received state of the art F-16C Block 40 Night Falcons, equipped with the LANTIRN low altitude night attack system. They also received a number of F-16C Block 30s to support the tactical training mission at Fort Bliss, as well as F-16Ds for pilot training. In recent years, the 150th TFG has deployed aircraft and crews to several "hot spots", including Kuwait and southern Europe. These aircraft will ensure that the pilots and crews of the New Mexico Air National Guard will remain ready to defense this country anytime - anyplace.
If you want to build a weathered, war-weary, veteran aircraft, DON'T build it as an Air National Guard aircraft. If you walk down the flight lines of any base in the country, the active duty aircraft are clean only for a few minutes after factory delivery or after a good rain storm. This is not a condemnation of the USAF, rather their emphasis is on training young maintenance folks who spent only a hitch or two in the service before moving on - all while maintaining mission readiness. In the Air National Guard, personnel turnover is a rare event. A crew chief may be assigned an aircraft and stay with that aircraft for more than 15 years. These people take pride in their aircraft, and keep a jealous eye on their birds when pilots "borrow" them for a sortie. When you look in the wheel well or access bay of an active duty aircraft, you'll find the usual oil and hydraulic fluid streaks that occur with normal use. When you examine the same wheel well or access bay on an Air National Guard aircraft, they are usually spotless (unless you somehow beat the crewchief to the aircraft after a sortie...).
You'll find markings for the 150th's F-51D Mustangs published by Ventura, and the A-7D Corsair II by Superscale.