OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. - An Air National Guard fighter wing bid a bittersweet goodbye to its old mission as it embraced its new reason for remaining on Cape Cod 24 days into the new year.
The 102nd Fighter Wing flew its final mission when two F-15 Eagle jet fighters were scrambled into a snow-threatening January sky during a ceremonial sortie witnessed by approximately 500 wing members, military officials, family, friends, and local government officials. Col. Anthony Schiavi and Maj. Dan Nash were the pilots.
"At approximately 1320 today, the alert klaxon sounded for the last time," said Schiavi, commander of the highly regarded unit that is being transformed into the 102nd Intelligence Wing. The F-15 pilots and crews are being replaced by specialists who will use computer technology to acquire, analyze and distribute data gathered from all over the world to combatant commanders and others who need to know what enemy forces are doing.
It is considered a prime example of how well a military unit is adjusting to a new role dictated by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission. The 102nd is the Air Guard's fifth oldest unit, born in the spring of 1921 as the Massachusetts National Guard's 101st Observation Squadron and federally recognized that November.
"We are ready to show the Air Force, the National Guard Bureau and the nation what the Massachusetts Air National Guard can do," said Maj. Gen. Michael Akey, the Bay State's Air Guard commander.
The 30-minute Thursday flight included three low-level flybys around the base and signaled the end of the 102nd's more than 35 years of continuous alert on Cape Cod. It has watched over a half-million square miles of Northeast airspace, including heavily-populated Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, since June 1972. It has logged over 80,000 accident-free flying hours during that time, Schiavi said.
"On Sept. 11th, 2001, shortly before 9 a.m., our F-15s were scrambled into a clear blue Cape Cod sky, and headed south for New York City "“ to a scene that none of us could imagine," Schiavi reminded the well wishers about how the fighters from Cape Cod were the first military aircraft to respond to the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center. "But in the days, weeks and months that followed, the 102nd flew thousands of hours over many locations to ensure the safety of our homeland," Schiavi added.
Other milestones have included intercepting Soviet Bear Bombers flying to and from Cuba, intercepting and escorting a hijacked Lufthansa flight to a safe landing in New York, and escorting the flight carrying suspected shoe bomber Richard Reid to Logan International Airport in Boston.
Schiavi, who has an Operation Desert Storm air-to-air combat kill to his credit, and Nash, who was one of the two pilots who first scrambled to New York, were at the controls for the final mission on January's fourth Thursday. Tech. Sgt. Joshua Daniel, Staff Sgt. Miguel Menendez and Jerry Cronin and Pat Ryan, both civilians, were the crew chiefs who helped to launch and recover the fighters.
The aircraft were showered with arching streams of water from base fire trucks after landing, and the pilots were sprayed with champagne after leaving their single-seat cockpits in a celebratory ending to the wing's air defense mission.
Some of the wing's aircraft are being relocated to Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, Mass., where Nash said he would continue flying the F-15s beginning in April. It will be at least a year, however, before Westfield will assume the Otis air defense mission, Nash said.
Meanwhile, Schiavi and other wing leaders will oversee the transition to the new intelligence mission.
"With all endings come new beginnings, and in just a few short months the 102nd Intelligence Wing will begin a different kind of 'watch' as we embark on a new 24/7 mission centered around intelligence gathering, analysis and exploitation directly supporting the war fighter and combatant commanders around the globe," Schiavi said. "There is no doubt that we will excel in this new mission just like we have in our current one."
Others, including the deputy commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and the Massachusetts National Guard's adjutant general, also predicted a successful transition based on the wing's performance after learning that its mission would be significantly changed because of BRAC.
It received its fourth straight "outstanding" rating, the highest possible, during a NORAD No Notice Alert Force Evaluation, pointed out Canadian Lt. Gen. Charlie Bouchard, the NORAD deputy commander, and Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Carter, the adjutant general.
"You can't get any better than that. It's hard to beat perfection," said Bouchard. "Today may be a day of adversity, but don't lose your focus toward the stars," he urged the Air Guard members who will remain with the wing. Other speakers were Brig. Gen. Steven Westgate, vice commander of the 1st Air Force, and Col. Ian Sanderson, the North Eastern Air Defense Sector's director of operations.