Ceremonial welcome for Team Whiteman's newest 'members'

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Nathan Dampf
  • 131st Bomb Wing Public Affairs
This month, Whiteman Air Force Base officially welcomed its newest family members. Their move was not as far as some who get stationed at Whiteman, but getting them here took a little more work.

These new family members are not the uniformed PCSing Airmen but rather, they are steel-winged warriors of history.

As the 131st Bomb Wing's annual training week came to an end, more than 300 current and former 131st Bomb Wing Airmen and their families attended the dedication ceremony of the wing's new Heritage Park today.

The event celebrated the three newly-restored static aircraft that now sit on permanent display here.

An F-100 Super Sabre, AF55-667; F-4 Phantom II jet, AF68-338; and F-15A Eagle, AF76-301; made the trek from St. Louis' Lambert International Airport to here, to ensure the heritage of the 131st lives on at the wing's new base of operations.

"I've been waiting for this a long time," said Col. Michael Francis, 131st Bomb Wing commander. "There were some who wanted these aircraft to go somewhere else. But, these aircraft have such a long and proud history with the 131st. They belong here."

That process began with the 131st Civil Engineering Flight based in St. Louis. After the Base Realignment and Closure Commission moved the 131st to Whiteman for its new mission, Chief Master Sgt. John Morrissey, recently-retired 131st CEF enlisted manager, became the custodian of the static aircraft left at Lambert.

"As our role at Lambert reduced, the plan was to vacate personnel and move," said Morrissey. "But, something had to be done with the aircraft. That's when senior leadership in the wing discussed a park of our own, and that permission was granted by the 509th Bomb Wing."

The engineers took it from there. In the fall of 2014, concrete was poured at Heritage Park to prep the landscape for the three birds. Wing civil engineers developed the plan from start to finish, taking measurements and surveys of the land to accommodate the jets, and pouring the concrete for the planes' footings.

"This project encompasses all of the tasks of our field," said Morrissey. "Not only did we survey the land, dig footings and pour concrete, but we also installed all lighting to ensure the best presentation."

"Gentlemen, our work here is done"

Once Morrissey's team was done, maintainers from the 131st, 509th and Whiteman's 442nd Fighter Wing participated in lifting the aircraft off the contracted moving trucks. That exercise satisfied a three-year aircraft recovery training requirement for all maintainers involved.

Senior Master Sgt. Phil Johnson, maintenance flight supervisor for the 131st Maintenance Squadron, supervised the lift of the F-100, which was the first of the planes to arrive at Whiteman.

"Some of the Airmen have never done this type of work, so it was good experience for everyone," said Johnson. "I'm the only one who's been with this aircraft, so even though we have the training requirement, we also hope the 131st members understand the history that is a part of this exercise."

One fun detail Johnson discussed with his Airmen was the fact that the F-100 was the Air Force Thunderbird's "No. 2" plane during the 1960s. Prior to getting a fresh coat of paint, the "2" could be seen through the faded paint that was last on the jet.

In addition to the F-100's history, the F-4 has some bragging rights also. It was flown as part of the 131st Fighter Wing at Lambert until 1986 and has two MiG kills from the war in Vietnam.

The Day History Becomes a Part of the Future

After each of the jets was reassembled and put on the concrete pads, maintainers completed the restoration and painting.  Then, the maintainers finished their portion of the work by adding the appropriate weaponry to each aircraft.

The newly-painted and armed jets were proudly displayed at the ceremony for all to see. Missouri Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Steve Danner was in attendance and helped unveil the air park, which also features a Minuteman statue.  As a nod to the wing's legacy, a B-2 Spirit flyover capped the ribbon-cutting event.

Many retirees also came to the event seeing the aircraft they worked on in St. Louis. And, because the Heritage Park opening ceremony took place at the end of the 2015 AT week, many families were in attendance as well.

"It is emotional for a lot of folks," said Col. Michael Jurries, 131st Mission Support Group commander. "We're continuing to tell the story of the Guard and celebrating our heritage. We're celebrating a new mission, but the same dedication to excellence."