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52nd AS patch

52nd Airlift Squadron Deactivates by Nathan Alderman

(This article originally appeared 6 August 1997 in the Moody AFB base newspaper Excaliber)

For all intents and purposes, the 52nd Airlift Squadron ended its existence shortly after 10 a.m. on July 30. At that time, five of the squadron's remaining aircraft flew in formation over their former unit's flagpole on their way to their new home in Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. It was the fifth time the unit closed in its 55-year history. It will most likely be the last. Within the next few months, the last physical remnants of the 52nd's time at Moody Air Force Base will disperse across the country and around the globe. Prior to the Little Rock transfer, four other C-130s flew to their new home at Yokota Air Base, Japan. A final plane will remain at Moody, joining the HC-130s of the 71st Rescue Squadron. A crate of squadron memorabilia from the "Roo Crew's" Moody years, including the unit's ceremonial guidon and photographs documenting its history, will be sent into permanent storage at the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. The buildings housing the squadron will be torn down in October. Perhaps more important than what will be lost by the squadron's demise, however, is what the 52nd will leave behind: three years of memories, enough honors and accolades to fill a cargo bay, and a legacy of excellence that will live on in other squadrons all over the world. What was originally known as the 52nd Transport Squadron began its long and eventful life in 1942 as a training unit. Aircraft that bore the 52nd's emblem over the years included the C-47, the C-124 and the C-141. The history of the 52nd is a distinguished one; the unit has won eight Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards. "We've evacuated citizens from Libya, flown humanitarian missions to Sicily after an earthquake, and done airlift missions to the Congo back in the 1960s," said Capt. Craig Walker, who compiled and updated the squadron's history in the months before it closed. The squadron also performed the first airdrop at the South Pole in 1956, and has flown missions to places as far-ranging as Greenland and Saudi Arabia.

The 52nd was most recently reactivated here at Moody in July of 1994 as a C-130 squadron. Tech Sgt. Roderick Jones, a flight engineer who flew with the 52nd's aircraft, was among the first squadron members to arrive. "It was strange, nobody was here," Jones said. "We didn't have anything but the hangar." "We came from other bases where things are set up," recalled Capt. David Hughes, who piloted C-130s to Yokota and Little Rock. "Here, we had to start from scratch, and on top of doing all that we had to work in with the F-16s and the A-10s." "We had a lot of things working against us here," said Capt. Todd Copley, Assistant Director of Operations for the 52nd. "Coming to a base with a lot of fighters, we didn't really have the infrastructure here that you have on a big base like Little Rock. For example, we never had a dedicated drop zone. We were always going to a different place and finding new ways to get there. In a combat environment where things are flexing back and forth, that's what you need. As far as flexibility, I think we had a squadron that could have gone anywhere and put the men and equipment on target, on time."

The 52nd thrived on adversity during its time at Moody. "The statistics show that of all the contests among the airlift squadrons, we were number one in tactical airlift and airdrop," said Senior Airman Samuel Citalan, flight engineer. In 1996 alone, the squadron flew 5,469 hours, nearly 2,000 of those while deployed in Saudi Arabia as part of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, but still had the lowest in-flight emergency rate in the entire wing. As part of the first United States team ever to participate in France's 19th Annual Airlift Congress in 1996, members of the 52nd won Best Team, Best C-130 Crew, and Best Enroute Navigation to an Airdrop Event. Most recently, at March's Air Warrior II exercise in Little Rock, the 52nd logged an exceptional 98.2 percent mission-capable rate at a time when rumors of the squadron's closure had already begun to circulate.

Those rumors were confirmed May 2. "I received a phone call from Col. (Billy) Diehl," recounted Lt. Col. Mark Fritzsche, 52nd AS commander . "He wanted to meet with our people immediately. A few hours later, he informed us all that Congress had approved the (closing of the squadron.) The announcement allowed us to deal with certainties to face the facts and move on from there." Planning for the transition began immediately. Master Sgt. Craig England, production supervisor, oversaw the transfer of aircraft from Moody. "I coordinated with all the major commands to come up with a game plan to make the transition as smooth as possible," England said."We had to have what we called an "iron flow," which is the actual (decision of) which aircraft would go to which commands and at what times. There were a lot of inspections that had to be done, and those had to be coordinated for specific times." "Seven planes went through major inspections," England added. "That involves putting an airplane into the inspection hangar for approximately three weeks, where they actually tear the airplane apart and do a very thorough inspection." Maintenance teams from Yokota and Little Rock arrived shortly before each wave of planes departed to make sure all the aircraft their bases would receive were in top condition. England assembled cadre teams of the 52nd's own maintainers to work with the inspectors and perform any necessary repairs. The cadre teams also had to assemble a history of each aircraft, compiling its previous writeups, records and time changes. The cadre teams had to work this maintenance around the squadron's regular operation schedule, at the same time that unit members were beginning to leave in anticipation of the squadron closing. The 52nd's last major operational week was dedicated to last-minute maintenance, briefings for the outgoing crews, and planning for the going-away ceremony. After departing from Moody on the morning of July 30, the members of the 52nd faced their final challenge as a squadron by participating in a drop competition, held in their honor, en route to Little Rock.

After they landed, Copley predicted a celebration with the former Roos' new squadron mates in Arkansas. "It'll be a big night for the 52nd," he said. "We'll all be together for the last time." As they prepared to move on to new assignments, members of the 52nd expressed pride in the solidarity, professionalism and achievements of their squadron. "I wish I had been more involved with the unit," said Citalan, who arrived four months before the squadron closed down. "Surrounded by all this experience, I would feel ready to go to war with this squadron." "A lot of people look at (the 52nd) and say, they've only got 10 airplanes," said Chief Master Sgt. Johnny Lynn, chief of maintenance. "But for a small squadron, it is one of the busiest and hardest-working squadrons I have ever seen. I think the Air Force, unless they compensate, is going to be losing a lot." With ongoing cuts in the size of the military, some say it's doubtful that the name and emblem of the 52nd will be resurrected at some point in the future. However, whether or not the combat marsupials of the 52nd Airlift Squadron ever return to service, the men and women who wore a kangaroo patch on their shoulder at Moody will continue the squadron's record of outstanding achievement. "I don't know whether this squadron will rise again," said Fritzsche, "but its standards, its knowledge and its expertise will carry on as our people are scattered to the four corners of the globe."

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