The end of an era arrived 15 July 2000 with a ceremony to commemorate the farewell of the C-141 presence and to close the 16th Airlift Squadron, the sole remaining C-141 flying squadron at Joint Base Charleston. Although the squadron was inactivated, it was expected to spring anew in the future and become the fourth C-17 flying squadron when Boeing resumes C-17 deliveries to Charleston in October 2003.
At its heyday, Joint Base Charleston had as many as 58 C-141s parked on its ramp and the aircraft and its crews had earned the reputation as the "workhorse of Air Mobility Command." The C-141 Starlifter first flew in December 1963 and entered Air Force service in 1965. Aircraft number 63-0624 was the first C-141 to arrive at Joint Base Charleston on Aug. 14, 1965.
The durable jets are being retired because many have reached the limits of their serviceable life of 45,000 flight hours and will eventually be flown to Davis Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ. for storage. Jets with less hours will be sent to other C-141 bases such as McChord AFB, WA. and Altus AFB, OK. who will continue to fly the venerable airlifter. According to Air Mobility Command Plans and Programs officials, the C-141s will retire from the active duty inventory before 2004 and from the Reserves and Air National Guard before 2006.
Although the 16th Airlift Squadron didn't technically close until September 2000, the ceremony was moved to July because funding for the C-141 maintenance ran out on June 30th. There were at least 75 members still in the squadron at that time, a far cry from the 260 personnel who once walked the halls of building 54 and packed the Yonkie Auditorium just a few years earlier. The aircraft came off the books at the end of June and there were no more Primary Aircraft Assigned, which allowed the Squadron to draw down and take care of people without being tasked for training or operational missions.
Between June and October 2000, about 50 members of the 437th AGS either moved to other bases or retired or separated from the Air Force. The remaining 30 members, mostly staff sergeants through master sergeants, transitioned to the C-17 and spend six months to a year in upgrade training.
The 16th AS flew its last training and "real world" operational missions before June 30, just before the money ran out. However, the base still had about 6 C-141s left on the ramp and they were gradually flown off to other bases or retired to Davis Monthan AFB. The last C-141 flight from the base departed on or about September 7, when it was flown to Altus AFB, OK.
Charleston based C-141s had been involved in virtually every major military contingency, to include DESERT SHIELD and STORM, where C-141s moved the majority of the cargo for our forces and was the first airlifter on the ground. Charleston C-141s saw action during the Vietnam War, the Israeli and Egyptian conflict in 1967 and 1973, the U.S. intervention in Grenada and Panama and the crisis in Kosovo just to name a few.
At one time, the 16th AS provided the nation's only long-range, rapid-response, special operations low level (SOLL) capability. The squadron provided the backbone of the nation's elite special operations forces and used the "Bad to the Bone" motto on their unit patches. Ever vigilant in sitting continuous alert 24 hours, 7 days a week, the 16th routinely responded to short-notice National Command Authority taskings. The squadron used uniquely qualified aircrews, trained in the use of enhanced night vision equipment and specially modified aircraft for unconventional warfare ops. In this capacity, the 16th AS was tasked with delivering the sting of US special forces by maintaining continuous JCS-directed alert force for global contingencies and thus provide the nation's rapid deployment airlift/airdrop capability. These crews rapidly deployed and inserted special operations ground forces into blacked-out, austere airfields/drop zones and extracted those ground forces upon mission completion. SOLL missions are AMC's most demanding and the 16th was the only unit qualified to fly these missions. As a result, the 16th figured prominently in every major AMC operation.
During Operations Phoenix Moat/Joint Endeavor the 16th flew 77 sorties, transporting humanitarian supplies, equipment, and personnel into the AOR. The 16th AS also played a critical role in the success of Combined Joint Task Force Exercise 96 air assault, Operation Big Drop III, the single largest airdrop since World War II. Squadron aircrews led both the C-141 heavy equipment and personnel formations which totaled 21 aircraft. The squadron's 16 aircrews dropped 936 personnel and 93,400 pounds of equipment and supplies.
The 16th also played a key role in large formation airdrop training for the 82nd Airborne Division committing, on average, two crews per month to Sacred Cow missions. Rounding out the squadron's massive flying training regimen were approximately 15 local training/proficiency sorties per week.
The 16th flawlessly performed this complex mission for over 17 years while maintaining the best safety record in the Air Force, surpassing 919,000 mishap-free flying hours. This unique mission was formally transferred to McGuire AFB in April 1999.
The 16 AS lineage goes back to December 11, 1940 when it was activated. The squadron has flown the C-47 from 1941 to 1945, C-119 from 1950 to 1951, YC-122 from 1951 to 1955, H-19 in 1952, and C-130 from 1969 to 1993. The squadron's lineage moved from Little Rock AFB, AR to Joint Base Charlestonon October 1, 1993 when it took on the C-141 as its primary aircraft.
The history of the 16th Airlift Squadron dates back to its inception on 20 November 1940. The squadron was constituted on that date and activated two weeks later as the 16th Transport Squadron, flying C-47's at McClellan Field, CA. On 9 July 1941, the squadron moved to Portland, OR, where the unit completed basic training prior to entering W.W.II. On 12 June 1941, the 16th Transport Squadron moved to Westover Field, Massachusetts for 45 days of final outfitting for the War.
While at Westover field, the 16th Transport Squadron was redesignated the 16th Troop Carrier Squadron. In August 1942, the squadron moved to Ramsbury, England. While headquartered at Ramsbury, the squadron operated on detached service out of Maison Blanche, Algeria during November and December 1942. After that, the unit moved its staff, crews, and aircraft to Kairouan, Algeria, and remained there until June 1943. As the African war front changed, the 16th moved to Eldjem, Tunisia.
Then in September 1943, the 16th moved to Comiso, Sicily and went on detached service to India to assist in the re-supply of Brigadier General Merrill and his men, affectionately known as "Merrill's Marauders". It was during this Ceylon, Burma, India campaign that the squadron received its first Distinguished Unit Citation. Just prior to "D" Day, part of the 16th left India for Italy to tow gliders into France on "D" Day. In July 1944, the detached unit was joined by the remainder of the 16th TCS at Ciampino, Italy and as the European Theater closed in on Germany, part of the 16th again went on detached service to Rosignano, Italy, operating re-supply missions to Greek Partisans during September to October 1944.
At the end of the War, the 16th TCS moved as a unit to Wallerfield, Trinidad, where it stayed until being deactivated on 31 July 1945. On 19 May 1947, the 16th TCS was reactivated at Langley Field, VA, where it stayed until September 1948. On 19 September 1950 the squadron was redesignated the 16th Troop Carrier Squadron (Assault, Light), and reactivated 5 October 1950 at Sewart AFB, TN, in response to the growing tensions in Korea. While at Sewart, the squadron flew the C-119, the YC-122 (the predecessor to the venerable C-123), and was the parent organization to an attached flight of H-5 and H-19 helicopters.
The squadron was renamed the 16th Troop Carrier Squadron (Assault, Fixed Wing) and moved to Ardmore AFB, OK, in November 1954, remaining there until July 1955 when it was again deactivated. The 16th was redesignated the 16th Tactical Airlift Training Squadron on 14 August 1969 and was reactivated six weeks later at Sewart AFB, TN.
It then moved to Little Rock AFB, AR, in March 1970, flying and conducting initial upgrade training in the C-130 A and E models. On 1 October, 1993 the 76th Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, SC, was renamed the 16th Airlift Squadron, transitioning in the process to the C-141 as the squadron's primary assigned aircraft.