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NEWS | Jan. 7, 2016

A brief history of the 437th in Charleston

By Stan Gohl 437th Airlift Wing historian

On 8 January 2016, the 437th Airlift Wing celebrates its 50th Anniversary in the Lowcountry.  Back on January 8, 1966, the Military Airlift Command, the predecessor to Air Mobility Command, made the decision to transfer the 437th Military Airlift Wing from Chicago O'Hare International Airport to Charleston Air Force Base.  It had been located in Chicago since the end of World War II as a traditional reserve wing. The move was not about moving Airmen and equipment it was about the transfer of the flag.  In the Air Force, a unit (wing, group or squadron) is a living entity and the flag or guidon is the symbol depicting the Air Force unit.  The host wing for Charleston AFB, 1608th Troop Carrier Wing, was inactivated the same day.  The final commander for the 1608th TCW, Brig. Gen. Howard E. Kreidler, officially furled the 1608th TCW flag and then unfurled the 437's flag symbolizing the official transfer of the 437th MAW from Chicago to Charleston AFB.  All units previously assigned to the 1608th TCW were now assigned to the 437th MAW.

The mission of the 437th is rather unique in the realm of military operations.  The yellow Charleston tail flash of the 437th brings fear to our enemies, because they know that we deliver ammunition, artillery and combat soldiers.  Even more unsettling to our enemies is the fact that we can deliver all of that combat capability from above, never coming into range or view of our enemy on the ground.  As impressive as our capability to bring fear to our enemies, it is our ability to bring hope and compassion to the masses that sets us apart from other military units.  We deliver food and water to the hungry, shelter to the homeless, search and rescue as well as medical care to the devastated and evacuate the sick and wounded.  We are truly the wings of hope.

The hope and compassion delivered by 437th extends beyond mankind.  In 1998, we delivered Keiko the killer whale in the back of a C-17 from Oregon to Iceland.  That effort inspired the movie "Free Willy."  In 2001, we delivered 10 cheetahs and their handlers to McGuire AFB, N.J. The cheetahs were a gift to the American people from the President of Namibian, Sam Nujoma.

The 437th not only accomplishes the mission, they set the standard. In 1970, we were the first wing to fly the C-5 Galaxy and three years later, in 1973, we airdropped Joyce Kutsch and Rita Johnson; the first two female paratroopers in the Army.  In 1975 we provided the first C-141A to be stretched and designated the C-141B and four years later we were the first wing to receive the new C-141Bs.  In 1982, the 437th set a new benchmark by fielding the first all-female air and ground crew in Military Airlift Command.  In 1991, the 437th landed the first aircraft in Saudi Arabia to support Operations DESERT SHIELD.  Not long after, in 1993, we were the first wing to fly the C-17; setting and broking dozens of airlift records.  Then in 1996, Captain Celeste Sanders, became the first woman in Air Mobility Command to qualify and serve as a crewmember on Special Operation Low Level II combat missions. 

The 437th is also inextricably tied to historical events.  After the Jonestown Massacre of 1978 the 437th transported the 913 remains from Guyana back to America.  In 1983 when terrorists attacked to US Marine's barracks in Lebanon, killing 241 Marines, the 437th provided one of the first aircraft to deliver medical and airlift support.  In the aftermath of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, the 437th airlifted wreckage recovered at sea to Patrick AFB, Fla. and transported the remains of the seven Challenger astronauts from the Kennedy Space Center to Dover AFB, DE. Challenger Flight Commander Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, had been a C-5 pilot assigned to the 3rd Military Airlift Squadron in Charleston.  In 1987, the 437th supported Pope John Paul II's 10-day visit to the United States.  In 2003, a 437th crew, transported U.S. Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch and 50 other wounded soldiers from Germany to Andrews AFB.  Lynch had been captured by Iraqi forces on March 23, 2003 in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. 

These are just some of the amazing accomplishments of the 437th over the last 50 years. We should be proud of our unique ability to deliver fear to our enemies while bringing hope and compassion to our fellow man. Finally we must never forget the many who gave all to accomplish that mission.