By Terrence G. Popravak, Jr., Lt Col, USAF (Retired)
/ Published May 04, 2011
April 15, 2011 -- It was on Friday, April 18, 1941, at the Swan Island Airport in Portland, Oregon, when the 123rd Observation Squadron was activated and thus became the first aviation element of Oregon's National Guard. Last Friday, April 15, beneath a large American flag in the Rosenbaum Hangar at Portland Air National Guard Base, around a stage trimmed with red, white and blue bunting, the 142nd Fighter Wing (142FW) hosted the 70th commemoration of this significant event. The Oregon Army National Guard 234th Band's Quintet played patriotic and period music as some 300 people gathered to celebrate the Oregon Air National Guard's (ORANG's) 70th anniversary. They were flanked by ORANG F-15 Eagle fighters from both Portland ANG Base's 142FW and Kingsley Field's 173FW, and surrounded by equipment displays from other ORANG units such as the 116th Air Control Squadron 123rd Weather Flight, 125th Special Tactics Squadron, 270th Air Traffic Control Squadron, the Boeing F-15 Program office as well as historical displays of uniforms and heritage.
ORANG veteran Mr. Mike Allegre served as master of ceremonies, and the event began with the arrival of the official party and the playing of the National Anthem. Distinguished guests were recognized, to include original members of the 123rd Observation Squadron, representatives of Oregon's State government and military department, Congressional delegation, Department of the Army, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Port of Portland, Air Force Reserve Command and the Boeing Company as well as philanthropists and long time supporters of the Oregon National Guard. 142FW Chaplain Father Rick Sirianni gave the invocation, followed by the dedication of a memorial wreath in remembrance of the 20 ORANG members who have given their lives in service since 1944. The wreath was placed by ORANG Chief Master Sergeant (Retired) Jack Klein, the ORANG's first recruiter who served from 1947 to 1976, along with the newest member of the ORANG, A1C Elliot Gile, an F-15 crew chief who completed his technical training in March 2011.
Following the wreath dedication, Oregon's Assistant Adjutant General - Air, Brigadier General Steven D. Gregg, gave his coin to Ms. Jerri Ghiglieri, in appreciation for her lithographs given to 123rd members at the ceremony and her commemorative artwork done for the 70th Anniversary. This was followed by personal letters read by representatives from Oregon's Congressional delegation, including Senator Ron Wyden, Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative Earl Blumenauer. Senator Wyden's representative presented a certificate from an entry made in the Congressional Record recognizing the ORANG's 70th anniversary and achievements.
Then Brigadier General Gregg made his remarks. He thanked the original members of the 123rd Observation Squadron, the founding unit of the Oregon Air National Guard, for their service. And he spoke to today's 2,300 ORANG members: "It's amazing what you do with so few, and what a great value our Oregon Air National Guard is to our state and nation."
Next to address the gathering was the Adjutant General of Oregon's National Guard, Major General Raymond F. Rees. He recognized the original members of the 123rd Observation Squadron, "...the ones who set the tone, made 70 years of history a viable possibility...you set a high standard." And to all the Oregon Air National Guard veterans from World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, and the wars in Southwest Asia, "...you have maintained those standards throughout that 70-year time frame. You've done a fantastic job for the state of Oregon and for the nation." MGEN Rees also thanked the members of industry and the Congress for their support to obtain the resources that provided the F-15C Golden Eagle upgrade: "...The retrofit with the very best radar will make us capable out to at least 2025..." He concluded that "It's a great time to be a member of the Oregon Air National Guard and have this wonderful legacy, and at the same time to have a bright, bright future ahead of us."
The 123rd Observation Squadron veterans present were appreciative of the honors given them, though modest and quick to express their appreciation for the ORANG of today. Founder Fred Parish spoke "Yes, we started it...and today's people have made the Oregon Air National Guard truly great." He continued, "We would like to think that when we signed up, that we were going to form a positive image of a gang buster organization that was going to go out and fight the war for everybody. But instead, the powers that be scattered us all over. .. (123rd members) served in the South Pacific, in England, over Germany, in the CBI and Philippines." Another 123rd veteran, Mr. Fred Hill shared a humorous recollection about life while deployed in a combat theater far from home in a beach landing gone awry as his B-25-equipped 17th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron moved from one island to another in the Pacific. He shared some wisdom from his experience: "So you can take a good mental attitude and you can enjoy the heat, the bugs, mosquitoes. But there's beauty there if you have a mind to see it."
Then Colonel Michael E. Stencel, Commander of the 142FW, thanked all assembled and spoke about the importance of the new Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar upgrade to his unit's F-15C Eagle. He then introduced Mr. Todd Burns, the Boeing F-15C AESA Radar Program Manager. Mr. Burns described the completion of the F-15C Golden Eagle upgrade with "...the most powerful fighter radar in the world." It was the result of a hundred companies in 27 states working to design, build and test nearly 900 parts that incorporated into rebuilding the whole front end of the aircraft, work that was accomplished with the teamwork of company workers and ORANG Airmen right at Portland ANG Base. He continued, "Of course, the real power behind the AESA ...is in the air, in the performance of the mission the F-15C was designed for. This aircraft has a whole slew of advanced capabilities. It has a 50% increase in detection range; a 20% increase in identification range, and an ability to go after smaller targets in homeland defense."
Mr. Allegre then closed the ceremony, acknowledged the contributions and support of a variety of people and lastly noted the departure of the official party. All in all, the 70th Anniversary celebration, accompanied by the Radar Rollout, was an outstanding tribute to 70 years of service by the men and women of the Oregon Air National Guard. With this new F-15C Golden Eagle AESA radar upgrade, the ORANG will continue to provide dedicated service to Oregon and the United States with state of the art air superiority capability in the conduct of air defense, 24/7 air sovereignty alert and expeditionary operations in defense of the Pacific Northwest and our nation.