The 122nd Fighter Wing traces its heritage back to the 358th Fighter Group that was activated in January, 1943, at Richmond Army Air Base, VA. Flying P-47D "Thunderbolts," the 358th flew interdiction and bomber escort missions from England until D-Day. As the Allies advanced, they took on the role of ground support, including "tank busting."
Following the surrender of Germany, the group redeployed to the United States in July 1945, and were officially inactivated the following November. In May 1946, the group was redesignated as the 122nd Fighter Group (later to become Fighter Wing) and assigned with all honors and colors to the Indiana Air National Guard. During the war the 358th, known as the "Orange Tails" for their distinctive bright orange aircraft markings, was awarded three Distinguished Unit Citations, and the Croix de Guerre.
The base was originally named after Lt. Paul Baer, Fort Wayne native and fighter ace of World War I. Baer began the war as a volunteer in the famed Lafayette Escadrille, a French aviation unit with American pilots. He was the first American aviator to receive the Distinguished Service Cross and is contended to be the first American ace in history. Baer survived the war and returned home as a highly decorated pilot.
With World War II raging in Europe in 1939, President Roosevelt declared a national emergency and began building up the American armed forces. One of the projects was an expanding of the Army Air Corps bases in the United States, and the military looked toward Indiana. Fort Wayne put forth a proposal and, after some haggling, a contract was awarded and the air base began construction in February 1941. The base was nearing completion later in the year when the first fighters arrived from Selfridge Air Base, Michigan on December 6th, 1941. The next day the nation was at war and within a week the squadron was overseas.
Baer Field Army Air Base became a maintenance center for C-47 transports going overseas to the war. In fact, the majority of C-47s used in the invasion of Normandy were fitted in Fort Wayne. During this time, the base was home to thousands of military and civilian personnel and many celebrities played shows for the USO in a hangar that is still standing on the west side of the Fort Wayne International Airport.
Toward the end of the war, the base was turned into a rotation center for Army Air Force troops coming home from the Pacific. The base was formally closed in late 1945 and the last civilians left in 1946.
A year later, President Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947, establishing the Air Force and the Air National Guard. The 122d Fighter-Bomber Wing was re-designated from the 358th Fighter Group, a decorated fighter-bomber unit from the Second World War, and was stationed at Stout Field in Indianapolis. The 163d Fighter-Bomber Squadron was activated and the Wing Headquarters was transferred to Baer Field in Fort Wayne.
Portions of the Wing were activated during the Korean War, but none from Baer Field served overseas. In the early 1960's, the Wing was activated for the Berlin crisis and another portion served in France, but the first time the Wing was activated to serve in a combat zone came in 1991, when the base security police unit deployed to Saudi Arabia; they remained there from January until June of that year.
In the 1990's, the 122d Fighter Wing became the first unit in the Air Force to receive the night-flying systems that enabled the fighters to be fully mission-capable 24 hours a day. With the night-vision goggles and the ability to fly with covert lighting, (which effectively "blacks out" the jets to observers on the ground or in the air,) the targeting pod and the Situational Awareness Data Link (SADL), the unit's F-16C+ jets became among the most capable fighters in the United States Air Force fleet.
Many squadrons on base continued to deploy on humanitarian missions all over the world during the 1990's, and the Wing participated in drug interdiction missions, specialized war fighting training and annual combat training deployments.
After September 11th, 2001, along with the multitude of changes for the U.S. military, came new contingencies for the Wing. Immediately units were sent overseas (one of the first American units deployed after 9/11 was the 122d Fighter Wing.) The war rotations continue up to this day. The Wing serves in the Air Expeditionary Forces deployment rotation, as well as deploying members to augment Air Force and Army units serving at home and abroad.
The 122d Fighter Wing has contributed multiple combat medical teams, security forces squads, vehicle drivers, pilots who are hand-picked for their outstanding combat flying skills and many individuals who are asked to serve on specialty teams in the Middle East. Combat zone assignments include Afghanistan, Iraq, Oman, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Qatar, Diego Garcia, and many, many more areas.
From 2005 to the present, the Security Forces squadron has deployed 13-member squads on four deployments to three locations. While deployed the teams provided personnel and resource protection.
The Civil Engineering squadron has also stepped up to the plate, participating in four deployments since 2005. Deployment locations include: Ali Base, Iraq, Al Sahra Airfield, Tikrit, Camp Morena (in support of Operation STABLE DOOR) and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
While in Guantanamo Bay the team was tasked to construct a new high security state-of-the-art courtroom, several sensitive information processing facilities, detainee holding cells and a 500-person base camp to support the ongoing operations. The squadron was able to bring the project to completion for $10.2 million dollars of a $14 million budget and complete the facility well ahead of schedule.
In 2006, the unit took part in its biggest deployment since the 1960's, when over 400 members of the 122d Fighter Wing deployed to Balad, Iraq. The unit returned to Balad in 2007. As an integral part in the War on Terror, and as a part of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Group in Balad, the unit flew F-16s in close air support, time sensitive targeting and surveillance missions.
After being approved in the fiscal year 2010 Program Objectives Memorandum, the 122nd Fighter Wing began preparing to convert from the F-16 Fighter Falcons, to the A-10 Thunderbolt II in the winter of 2010. The conversion was due to the projected life-span of the F-16, as well as budget restraints.
The unit continues to deploy
members across the globe in support of the War on Terror as well as other operations and exercises.
The purpose of the Air National Guard is twofold: The previous missions detail some of our federal missions, but the true mission of the Air National Guard is a state mission. All National Guard units work for the Governors of their respective states, and they respond to all state and local emergencies. This mission of the Air National Guard reached national level many times from providing aerial footage of flooded areas in southern Indiana, to providing manpower and machinery to the hurricane ravaged areas of Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The Adjutant General of Indiana, Major General R. Martin Umbarger, has selected the 122nd Fighter Wing as the central command and control point for northern Indiana. This function was put in use in February 2010 when Fort Wayne, and the surrounding area, was covered in over 14 inches of snow. The Emergency Operations Center located at the 122nd Fighter Wing controlled the actions of all Army National Guard armories and the relief efforts for all of Northern Indiana, reporting directly to the Joint Operations Center in Indianapolis Indiana. For almost a week, operating during all hours of the day, personnel and machinery were directed out of the 122nd Fighter Wing until it was determined that the Department of Transportation had cleared enough of the roadways to allow for traffic flow to resume.
In September 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf region with devastating winds, a 30 foot storm surge, rain and hurricane spawned tornadoes that reached deep into the mainland causing massive devastation and destruction to both homes and infrastructure throughout the region. In response to a request from Louisiana's Governor, units from both the Army and Air National Guard deployed to the region. The 122nd Fighter Wing was sent to Camp Shelby, Hattiesburg Mississippi to join other units in recovery and rebuilding efforts. During the month long deployment, the 122nd Fighter Wing cleared debris on Camp Shelby, rebuilt portions of schools in the surrounding communities, forward deployed personnel to act as liaisons with local sheriff departments for food and water distribution, and to ensure that shelters were properly equipped to maintain the food and water supplies for an extended period of time. The mission was not only of one of relief for the residents, but for other government agencies as well. The unit was tasked to build a shower facility for a FEMA detachment in the Waveland Mississippi area that had not had any running water or electricity for two weeks. Once constructed, FEMA was so impressed that they opened it up to local residents as a way to get a little relief from the oppressing heat and humidity that had covered the area since the hurricane struck.