Home : News : Commentaries : Display
NEWS | Nov. 1, 2017

The Second Charleston Air Force Base

By Stan Gohl, historian 437th Airlift Wing

On November 13, 1953, Airmen assigned to the newly constructed Charleston Air Force Base held an official dedication ceremony, celebrating the full operational status of the new base.

 

Although there had previously been a Charleston Army Air Field, that base had been placed in surplus status on April 25, 1946, soon after the end of WWII, and officially returned to the City of Charleston on October 19, 1948. Two years later, world events in Korea prompted the Air Force to reconsider the closure and transfer of the field.

 

In August 1951, Congress approved a request from the Air Force to establish troop carrier operations out of Charleston by providing $28 million in funding. In March 1952, the City of Charleston approved a joint use agreement with the Air Force, allowing them to occupy and use the land south and west of the Southern Railways track, while the city continued to own and operate all facilities north and east of the existing runways. Construction on the new base officially began in May 1952.

 

In early 1953, with construction well under way, elements of the 456th Troop Carrier Wing (TCW) began to arrive at Charleston to serve as the host wing and on June 1, 1953, the base was officially named Charleston Air Force Base and two months later, on August 1, the base was officially activated. On August 15, the 456th TCW received 50 C-119 Flying Boxcars, which effectively made the base operational.

 

The initial plans for the new Charleston AFB had included two troop carrier wings, and in February 1954, Airmen from the 1608th Air Transport Group (ATG) arrived in Charleston followed closely by the arrival of the first of the C-54 Skymasters in March 1954. A year later, on March 1, 1955, the 1608th ATG, now an Air Transport Wing (ATW), took over responsibility as the official host wing at Charleston AFB.

  

Also in 1954, the base saw the arrival of 444th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, a tenant unit operating F-86 Sabres conducting coastal air defense missions. In 1955, the first C-121 Constellation assigned to the 1608th ATW, appropriately named the City of Charleston, arrived while the 456th TCW and their C-119s departed.

 

Just over a decade later in 1966, Charleston experienced another change when the 1608th ATW was inactivated and replaced by the 437th Military Airlift Wing (MAW). Then in July 1973, the 315th Military Airlift Wing, a Reserve Associate Wing, arrived at Charleston to serve side-by-side with the Airmen of the 437th MAW. For the next 44 years, the 437th served as the host wing here at Charleston AFB. However, 2010 ushered in big changes for the base.

 

After years of negotiations and planning, stemming primarily from the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure commission (BRAC), Charleston AFB officially became Joint Base Charleston. In addition to the name change, the base also saw the activation of another wing, the 628th Air Base Wing (ABW). The 628th ABW did not replace the 437th Airlift Wing (AW). It did, however, take over responsibility for the care and operations of the base, leaving the 437th AW to focus on the maintenance and operations of their 50 plus C-17s. As the new name Joint Base Charleston implied, the 628th ABW was not only responsible for the care and operations of the air base; they were also now responsible for the care and operation of the Naval Weapons Station, approximately 15 miles away in Goose Creek, South Carolina.

 

As Charleston AFB grew, it also adapted and changed with the times. Through the decades, Charleston witnessed several firsts for the Air Force; the arrival of the first C-130E in 1962, the arrival of the first C-5 in 1970 and the arrival of the first C-17 in 1993. They also participated in virtually all contingency operations and wars in which the US has been involved; from Korea to Vietnam, Grenada to Panama, Desert Shield to Desert Storm and Afghanistan to Iraq. They have also responded to humanitarian crises worldwide; earthquakes, floods, blizzards, hurricanes, genocide, famine and disease. So on November 13, 2017, take a moment to reflect on not only what we do today, but what we have done for the past 64 years.