Scott AFB celebrates century of service

  • Published
  • By Karen Petitt
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
This year the Air Force celebrates its 70th birthday and the fourth oldest “continuously active duty flying field” in its inventory will celebrate its 100th.

Located in the heartland of America, Scott Air Force Base marked the historic milestone with a kickoff celebration Jan. 7 that helped launch a yearlong effort to honor its heritage, thank its mission and community partners and posture the installation for the next 100 years.

Air Force senior leaders have sent congratulatory messages which include Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein who reminded Scott Airmen that they “serve in the contrails of airpower’s elites … aviation pioneers … and airlift giants” and that in the past 10 decades there has been no bridge too far for Scott’s transportation and logistics hub.

“The rich legacy of all of our military services as well as the tremendous community support we’ve enjoyed throughout the years is what makes us strong today, and is what will keep us even stronger as we begin the next century of service,” said Col. Laura Lenderman, the 375th Air Mobility Wing and installation commander. “We’re proud of our heritage and honor the men and women who sacrificed, broke barriers, innovated and championed airpower—some at great cost to themselves. We are the benefactors of a collective 100 years of service in a variety of ways—whether it was from military service, or business partners, or in the way of family support. Together we’ve lifted each other and our Air Force to new heights, and this year we plan to recognize and celebrate those achievements as we look forward to building on this foundation of excellence.”

New beginnings

The start of Scott’s 100-years of service began during World War I during which community and business leaders wanted a flying field in the Midwest. They foresaw the location in the Midwest as an integral part for the nation’s defense. Scott Field began as a mere 624 acres, and after 10 decades of growth, it has increased to 3,589 acres that support the nation’s premier transportations cyber hub that hosts 31 mission partners from all branches of the service and the Defense Department.

After inspecting several sites, the U.S. War Department agreed to the lease on June 14, 1917. Congress appropriated $10 million for its construction, and 2,000 laborers and carpenters were immediately put to work.

The government gave the Unit Construction Company 60 days to erect approximately 60 buildings, lay a mile-long railroad spur, and level off an airfield with a 1,600-foot landing circle. Construction was underway when the government announced it would name the new field after Cpl. Frank Scott, the first enlisted service member killed in an aviation crash.

Flying operations

Construction was completed in August, and the first flight from Scott Field occurred Sept. 2, 1917.

Because of the dangers of flying at the time, Scott officers made two air ambulances by modifying Jenny aircraft to carry patients, and on Aug. 24, 1918, Scott’s air ambulance transported its first patient after an aviator broke his leg.

Scott Field’s future became uncertain after the end of WWI as many airfields were closed down, but good news came early in 1919 when the War Department announced it would purchase Scott Field.

A new mission came in 1921, when Scott Field was selected to become a lighter-than-air station.

Many new facilities were built to accommodate its new balloon and airship mission—the most notable being the airship hangar, which was the second largest in the world at that time. Its checkered roof and massive size would have been the most noticeable object among the flat patches of farmland. Even two years after Scott Field had transitioned away from lighter-than-air operations, the airship hangar still stood in 1939 for all to see.

That same year, the chief of the Army Air Corps decided to stop all lighter-than-air activities, paving the way for new missions. Scott was chosen to become the new home of General Headquarters Air Force, and with that came construction that more than doubled the size of Scott Field, adding nearly 100 colonial-style buildings which still stand today.

Radio communications

The onset of WWII prevented Scott Field from becoming the Air Force headquarters. Instead, Scott became a communications training hub for the Army Air Forces. During the war, Scott’s Radio School produced graduates that were known for being the "eyes and ears of the Army." In total, the Radio Communications School at Scott graduated 150,000 students.

After the Air Force became a separate service on Sept. 18, 1947, the mission began shifting from technical training to air transport and aeromedical evacuation. By 1959, the last remaining classes at Scott Field signaled the end of the Communications School, but not the end of the communications and cyberspace mission sets, as those missions continue today.

Today, five separate communications units call Scott home, including the Air Force Space Command’s Cyberspace Support Squadron, 688th Cyberspace Operations Group and 375th AWM Communications Group.

Aeromedical evacuation

By 1957, Military Airlift Transport Service, the predecessor to Air Mobility Command, took up permanent residence at Scott and oversaw all aspects of global mobility in the aeromedical evacuation, aerial refueling, cargo and senior leader transport missions.

By 1964, Scott Field became responsible for all aeromedical transportation within the U.S., and by 1975, the base was responsible for worldwide patient movement via the Patient Airlift Center. The PAC had earlier coordinated 61 aeromedical missions to bring 357 former prisoners of war back to the U.S. During this time, the 375th Aeromedical Airlift Wing activated, and soon added a fleet of C-9A Nightingales as the backbone for the worldwide aeromedical evacuation system.

Today the 375th AMW is home to one of four active-duty aeromedical evacuation squadrons in the Air Force, and is also responsible for training all Air Force aeromedical evacuation crews at its geographically separated unit—the Detachment 4, 375th Operations Group—located at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. Det. 4 standardizes qualification training for all Reserve, Guard, and active-duty flight nurses and aeromedical evacuation technicians.

Because of advances in both medical techniques and the Air Force’s quick response capabilities, wounded service members have “an incredible 98 percent survival rate” if they reach the aircraft with a heartbeat, with an average return time of a patient to the U.S. under 72 hours.

This is a dramatic increase from the Dessert Storm survivability rate, which was 75 percent—taking an average of 10 days to return.

In Vietnam, the survivability rate was 75 percent, taking an average of 45 days.

Operational support airlift

In 1978, the 375th AMW gained another mission -- operational support airlift. Scott had received its first T-39A Sabreliner in 1962 and had since been managing a dispersed continental fleet of 104 Sabreliners flying a combined 92,000 hours per year. Even though the T-39As were phased out in 1984, the operational support airlift mission continued with the arrival of C-21A Learjets. The 375th AMW continues flying this mission today, as well as hosting the only formal training unit for C-21 pilots.

As the 375th AMW reorganized during the 90s, it transitioned to an airlift wing and then in 2009 became an air mobility wing in conjunction with a new “active associate” partnership with the Illinois Air National Guard’s KC-135 refueling mission. The wing also enjoys a Total Force Association partnership with the Air Force Reserve’s 932nd Airlift Wing in flying the C-40 aircraft for senior leader airlift missions for the DOD. Scott AFB serves as one of six locations in AMC and one of 10 throughout the Air Force where TFA efforts currently exist.

Community support

Since the very beginning, the surrounding communities have played an important role in the success of Scott AFB, and community relations remain strong 100 years later. Scott AFB is the largest employer in southern Illinois and the fourth largest employer in the St. Louis metropolitan area. Every year, the base injects over $3.5 billion into the local economy and positively impacts over 13 counties in the surrounding areas. Today, Scott AFB remains deeply connected to the surrounding communities and works hand in hand with local government and civilian organizations on a daily basis.

From security forces and firefighters responding to crises outside the gates when requested during times of mutual aid to medical residents saving lives in the local hospitals, to servicemen and women volunteering across the region, Scott personnel are passionate about making a positive difference and continuing to grow community partnerships.

The men and women serving at Scott are grateful to the surrounding communities, for they could not successfully accomplish the past century-worth of missions without their tremendous support.