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Celebrating 75 Years of Service and Success

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Posted: Friday, October 13, 2017 12:15 am

Final Part in our series celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Homestead Air Field / Homestead Air Force Base / Homestead Air Reserve Base, as well as the 70th anniversary of the United States Air Force.

By Bob Jensen

   The 79th Military Airlift Squadron, Homestead AFB was re-designated the 79th Airborne Early Warning and Control Squadron (AEW&CS) on July 30, 1971 and had its C124 cargo planes replaced with EC121Ds.  The EC121D, with radomes on top and below the aircraft fuselage and six tons of electronic surveillance equipment, was a modified Air Force C121 passenger aircraft, the military version of Lockheed's Constellation commercial plane.  This aircraft was one of the most important aircraft of the 1950s, guarding the U.S. coastline and acting as a forerunner of today's airborne early warning and control system (AWACS) carried out by Boeing E3 AWACS.  It could remain airborne for as long as 35 hours.  It was retired from service in 1979.

    The 79th's mission was to provide "airborne radar surveillance and tactical control of air defense weapons for air defense and contingency operations."  Initially, the squadron aircrews flew missions in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.  In 1974 the 79th converted to EC121Ts and sent its "D" models to the Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center, Davis Monthan AFB, Ariz.

   In 1976, the Reserve early warning program underwent significant changes.  At the time, the Air Force wished to terminate for economy purposes its EC121 Iceland mission.  The Office of the Secretary of Defense, however, requested that the Air Force continue the mission pending other arrangements due to State Department concerns that without the EC121 presence, Iceland would not have any warning of airspace intrusions.  Accordingly, the Air Force assigned the 79th responsibility for flying missions out of Keflavik, Iceland on a rotational basis.

    The Aerospace Defense Command activated Detachment 1 of the 20th Air Defense Squadron on March 1, 1976 to support the Reserve effort.  This augmentation by active-duty aircrews and support personnel in effect became an active associate program, the reverse of the Reserve associate program begun in 1968.  Associate units do not own their own aircraft; instead unit personnel fly and maintain those belonging to collocated units.  On December 1, 1976, the Reserve activated the 915th Airborne Group (AEW&CG) at Homestead AFB to provide control and command supervision over the 79th AEW&CS.

   In 1978 the Air Force ended the EC121 Iceland and Florida missions once E3A AWACS aircraft entered the aircraft inventory.  On October 1, 1978, except for maintaining one EC121 on station in Iceland for another six weeks to accommodate E3A delivery delays, the Air Force Reserve began converting its EC121 units to fighter operations.  Effective that date, Headquarters Air Force Reserve re-designated the 915th AEW&CG as a tactical fighter group and inactivated the 79th AEW&CS, replacing it at Homestead AFB with the 93rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, the Reserve's first F4C equipped unit.

   The personnel strengths at the base in April 1979 were: Air Force, 5,349; Army, 2,463; Navy 284; Marines, 62; Air Force civilians, 860 and non-Air Force civilians, 223.  The military payroll was $73,919,621 and the civilian payroll was $18,694,881.  Of the total of $40,744,539 spent on procurement, $19,709,798 was spent locally.

   On March 31 of 1981 the role was changed to one of a training wing, utilizing the F4D Phantom II jet fighter.  In October of 1985, the 31st regained its role as a "fighter" wing with the arrival of the first F16s. With two combat-ready fighter squadrons, Homestead AFB stood ready to project tactical air power whenever and wherever it was called upon to do so.

   Twelve MIG-killer F4D Phantoms were assigned to Homestead Air Force Base.  They are now retired.  Three MIG-killer pilots and back-seaters served at Homestead.  They were LtCol Lawrence Cary, Capt Eldon Binkley and back-seater Major Theodore Bongarts.

   In 1988 the Air Force tenant units served by the - 31st TFW and its subordinate units were:

- 482nd TFW (AFRES)

- 482nd Combat Support Group

- 482nd Civil Engineering Services Squadron

- 93rd TFS

- 70th Aerial Port Squadron

- 90th Aerial Port Squadron

- 726th Tactical Control Squadron

- 301st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron

- 1942nd Communications Squadron

- 3613th Combat Crew Training Squadron

- AFIA/RE IRD 35 Air Force Intelligence Agency (Reserve Detachment 35)

- Det 1, 125th Fighter Interceptor Group (Florida Air National Guard)

- Det 1, 6947th Electronic Security Squadron

- Det 3, 11th USAF Contingency Hospital (AFRES)

- Det 6, 3rd Weather Squadron (MAC)

- Det 7, 4400th Management Engineering Squadron (TAC)

- Det 319, 3751st Field Training Squadron (ATC)

- Det 707, Air Force Office of Special Investigations

- OL1B, Det 11, Air Force Commissary Service

- OL2L, Air Force Legal Services Center

- OLAG, 2610th Recruiting Squadron (AFRES)

- OLAG, 2400th Reserve Readiness Mobility Squadron (AFRES)

- OLDB, 2nd Combat Information Systems Group

- OLOC, 23rd Air Force Combat Operation Station

- OLOH, 1701st Mobility Support Squadron (MAC)

- OLCA, 363rd Combat Support Group (TAC)

- USAF Trial Judiciary (USAF)

- OLHO, Air Force Intelligence Service

- Det 35, Air Force Intelligence Service

   Other DOD tenants were:

- U.S. Naval Security Group Activity

- U.S. Naval Personnel Support Activity

- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Company H, Marine Support Battalion

- U.S. Customs

- USO

- Defense Fuel Region Caribbean

- Defense Investigative Service

- Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office

- American Red Cross

   Hurricane Andrew arrived on August 24, 1992 virtually destroying the base.

   On Sept 2, 1992, President George H. Bush and then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney visited the base.. Most military and family members returned to the base only to gather what belongings had been spared while continuing a mass evacuation during this time to new duty assignments.

   23,500 additional military personnel from various military units across the United States operated out of tents on and off the base providing around-the-clock law enforcement, security, humanitarian, and rebuilding manpower for the base and community.

   The 31st TFW was deactivated at Homestead AFB and reactivated at Aviano AB, Italy.

 Homestead Air Force Base was officially re-designated.  Busloads of Military Affairs Committee members, their spouses and other concerned local folks traveled to Orlando to make known to the Base Relocation and Closure Committee that we wanted our Air Base reopened.  Then State Representative Darryl Jones, an Air Force Academy graduate and Reserve fighter pilot was the primary spokesperson.  As a result the decision was made to rebuild a smaller Air Force Reserve base. The Base Relocation Closure Committee ultimately withdrew Homestead AFB from the closure list on June 22, 1995.

   Our Government spent more than $100 million to repair and rebuild what was to become Homestead Air Reserve Base which came into being on March 31 1994.

   The first test for the new base came in September 1994 when a multi-service group assembled at the base in preparation for an invasion of Haiti. The new base continued to be a forward joint service operating location for events surrounding Operation Uphold Democracy/Restore Freedom in Haiti. That year also marked the beginning of another major role as Homestead became a forward supply stop for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The base was also a staging area for masses of Cuban immigrants receiving paroles into the United States.

   In 1994, the 482nd Fighter Wing became the host unit. The wing then began rebuilding the base. Major construction projects followed and Homestead made it through another round of base closings in 1995.

   Through 2001, Homestead ARB continued to fulfill its primary mission of training reservists while welcoming and supporting a number of other DOD and international tenant units. Deployments of the Wing's 93rd Fighter Squadron continued through the '90's in support of Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch, (air space over Iraq) and various humanitarian missions continued to operate from the base. All the while, Homestead ARB continued to host training deployments and conferences involving the Army, Navy, British Air Force, the FBI, and the U.S. Forest Service. This high-operations tempo along with post-hurricane construction, and strong, continued local community involvement seemed to cement the base's future in Homestead.

    Upon their return to home station, the 93rd Fighter Squadron began performing Noble Eagle Air Defense (Homeland Defense) alert missions, once again demonstrating the strategic importance of the Homestead location as well as the value of its trained and ready combat force.

   In early March of 2003, as they prepared for yet another rotation to Operation Southern Watch, members of the 93rd Fighter Squadron advance party found themselves on the front lines for the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom -  to rid Iraq of Hussein). Two pilots and two F16 aircraft from the unit contributed to the "shock and awe" campaign over Baghdad, as well as other Iraqi targets, during the first and continued waves of the coalition forces campaign.

   Back at home, the resumption of the Operation Noble Eagle Air Defense alert mission added to the high-operations tempo the base faced that year. In total, the 482nd FW contributed more than 200 personnel mobilized in support of Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan)  and Iraqi Freedom, predominately from security forces, services, and civil engineering squadrons.

   While continuing mobilizations and other real world tasking, the 482nd FW received an outstanding rating on a Standardization/Evaluation Program inspection and satisfactory ratings on both a Unit Compliance Inspection in 2003 and an Operational Readiness Inspection in 2004. Additionally, the wing received numerous unit and individual Air Force Reserve Command and 10th Air Force awards during those two years, proving it could not only fulfill multiple missions and role tasking, but also continue to display excellence in every area.

   In 2005, Homestead supported El Salvador during Operation New Horizon, providing combined engineer and medical readiness training in the form of humanitarian and civic assistance to the El Salvadoran people.

   In November of 2009, Homestead ARB hosted its first Air Force sponsored air show in 18 years, featuring the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. The air show was a complete success and marked the beginning of many more to come. In November of 2010, Homestead ARB hosted another air show, featuring the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, with an estimated 400,000 spectators entering the gates of the base.

   Homestead ARB is used as a staging area for operations and relief efforts in the southern hemisphere and serves as a major focal point in providing assistance in numerous natural disasters such as the Haiti Relief Efforts. Operation Unified Response was a month-long humanitarian effort to provide manpower, food and water and to assist earthquake victims reunite with relatives and loved ones after the devastating earthquake in Port Au Prince, Haiti. From Jan. 13, 2010 to Feb. 13, 2010, components of the Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard staged troops, equipment, and thousands of pounds of supplies to be flown to Port Au Prince airport.

   New state-of-the-art troop dining facility, fitness center, and a new headquarters building for Special Operations Command South were constructed.

   Homestead ARB has also assisted and continues to assist a myriad of missions as well as the Global War on Terror with numerous individual and unit deployments to include: Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, Noble Eagle Air Defense Alert, Viper Javelin (Afghanistan), and Operation New Dawn (Iraq).

   Reservists from the 482nd Security Forces Squadron completed a six month deployment in June of 2010 to Kirkuk Regional Air Base in Northern Iraq. Their mission was to provide security and create a safe and secure environment for thousands of U.S., Coalition, and Iraqi troops; U.S. State Department Provisional Reconstruction Teams, and civilian contractors housed and operating from the base. Airmen from the 482nd Civil Engineering Squadron returned from a six month deployment at Kirkuk Air Base, Iraq, in Aug. of 2010 after building roads and light infrastructure.

  Today, the 482nd FW, the host unit of Homestead ARB, continues to support contingency and training operations of U.S. Southern Command and a number of tenant units, including Headquarters Special Operations Command South, the U.S. Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team, and an air and maritime unit of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In addition, Homestead ARB is home to the most active NORAD alert site in the continental United States, operated by a detachment of F15 fighter interceptors from the 125th FW of the Florida Air National Guard.

   America's finest citizen Airmen, the 482nd Fighter Wing consistently lives its vision of service before self, integrity first, and excellence in all they do.  The 482 Airmen are a part of the 70,000 Air Reservists who participate in every Air Force mission.  We are proud of them and of all those who came before them!

Bob Jensen is a retired Navy Commander and president of the Florida Pioneer Museum and of the Historic Homestead Town Hall Museum.

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