Airmen carry on 746th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron mission

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Steve Staedler
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
When it came to flying into the teeth of the enemy over Europe, the Airmen of the 746th Bombardment Squadron backed down to no one.

Sixty years later, that same bravado that made the 746th BS one to be reckoned with is back -- reactivated with a mixture of active duty, Guard and Reserve Airmen working together as the 746th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron.

"I'm very excited to be part of an expeditionary squadron with a history like this one," said Lt. Col. Lee Flint, the 746th EAS' first active duty squadron commander since 1945.

To trace the flight path that has led the 746th EAS to this point in history, one has to go back in time to June 1, 1943, when the squadron was initially stood up as the 746th BS, part of the 456th Bombardment Group. In control of one of the premier aircraft at the time, 746th BS Airmen flew B-24 Liberators into combat missions against Axis forces in early 1944. Their missions -- attacking marshaling yards, aircraft factories, railroad bridges and airdromes in Italy, Austria and Romania.

Following the war, the squadron was inactivated for seven years, until it returned as the 746th Troop Carrier Wing flying C-119 Flying Boxcars. During this period the 746th supported the surveillance satellite initiative Corona Program. To receive satellite images, film canisters returned to earth, being slowed by parachutes. The C-119s literally caught the parachutes in midair to expedite a safe return. The squadron was again inactivated in 1956, where it would take another war more than 45 years later to summons it back.

The guide-on returned to service in fall of 2004 as the 746th EAS stood up here. In the past two years its Airmen have flown their C-130 Hercules supporting operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and Combined Joint Task Force: Horn of Africa. A distinction of the squadron this time around is the make up of the Airmen.

"Now we're a squadron that's representative of the total force," Colonel Flint said. "We all come from different backgrounds, but we gel together to form one team to get the job done."

The active duty component is a unit from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. The Air National Guard contingent is comprised of units from Maryland, Rhode Island and California. And although a Reserve unit has just rotated back home, the total force concept has played a key role in making the 746th EAS as successful now as they were 60 years ago.

"I've told our people to protect their heritage because when they wear the squadron patch and represent this squadron, they're representing every Airman that went before them," Colonel Flint said.

One challenge the 746th EAS faces, that its predecessors did not, is flying different models of C-130 aircraft. Many Guard units fly the J model, which is the newest C-130 airframe in the Air Force inventory, whereas several active duty bases fly older models.

Because of this Air Guard crews are certified to work and fly only their aircraft, so there isn't any inter-mixing of crews when it comes to maintaining and flying.

"It's always important to recognize the Guard and Reserve can come in and work along side the active duty to their same performance levels," said Lt. Col. Michael Boden, 747th Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge.

Getting the new J model here began in December of 2004 for a five-month test session. Since the aircraft was new it needed to be evaluated in a war-time setting. The aircraft's impressive performance easily passed the evaluation, and began regular rotationsĀ in June 2005.

As far as the Airmen who fly and maintain the newer C-130s, Colonel Boden, a member from the Maryland Air National Guard's 135th Airlift Group, pointed out the guardsmen and reservists face additional hurdles when deploying because they work with other Guard and Reserve units to learn each other's processes and skills, whereas since active duty typically deploys one entire unit, everyone knows the strengths of their own unit.

"On any given rotation you have new people coming in from two or more units and they have to meld together quickly and continue working without missing a beat," Colonel Boden said. "Within the Guard or Reserve it's common to have three separate units working together.

In looking back at the last 60 years Colonel Flint said there are common bonds that tie the two eras together.

"If you look at pictures of crews together in front of their airplanes, we've got those same kinds of pictures," he said. "The names and faces are different, but you can still see the camaraderie between them. We are professional, dedicated and courageous Airmen. That's a great legacy to share."