Scott AFB still commands attention as centennial nears
By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
SCOTT AFB — A big party is on the horizon for one of the most important employers in the region.
Scott Air Force Base is turning 100 years old in 2017 and planning is already underway.
To be sure, the installation is a survivor, having dodged multiple base-closing rounds through the years and evolving to become one of the most important military facilities in the United States, with missions around the globe.
A committee made up of base organizations, major mission partners, retirees and local community entities is planning the centennial. The first discussions, primarily among military personnel, began more than six months ago.
A number of events are being contemplated, though the only locked-in date is the air show and open house planned on June 10 and 11, 2017, and featuring the United States Air Force Thunderbirds.
Other activities are expected to include a Race Through History/Scavenger Hunt in April; a St. Clair County Annual Armed Forces Ball in May; a Retiree Appreciation Day and Annual Air Force Ball in September; and a Fall Festival and Thank You in October.
The first thing, though, will be a formal proclamation, expected sometime in January.
“We’re planning a kick-off celebration in January and would love to have a proclamation with representatives of the same communities that helped create Scott Field,” said Col. Laura L. Lenderman, installation commander of the 375th Air Mobility Wing. “I’m sure the Belleville landowners and St. Louis-based construction companies would be in awe to see what Scott Field has now become. We want to make sure we appropriately recognize the community and military partnership that we’ve had since day one.”
Lenderman, now 45, spent some of her formative years on the base and remembers swimming in the base pool when her parents lived at Scott in the 1980s. The last 35 years of her life have been interwoven with the base.
“The whole reason I’m in the Air Force today is because I grew up at Scott Air Force Base,” she said. “I was here as a child, from 1980 to ‘84. I grew up just two blocks over (from the 375th’s current headquarters building).”
Lenderman’s father was an active duty member. Her mother was active socially.
“She was in the community theater in Lebanon, and we went to church in Belleville. We swam on the swim team and played softball,” she said.
As a child, the future colonel said she was touched by a sense of community and belonging at Scott — and in the Air Force.
“This was a special organization, and I wanted to be a part of it. That’s why I personally became an Air Force officer. But it’s also that spirit that continues on and is still alive today as part of this vibrant community that supports all the airmen here. And it’s not just airmen anymore, it’s Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines — with the TRANSCOM piece that’s brought that joint flavor to the base. It’s grown over the last hundred years, but it’s really grown over the last 20 or 30,” Lenderman said.
The two major commands at the base are also noting important anniversaries next year.
“United States Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) will be celebrating its 30th year, and Air Mobility Command will be celebrating its 25th year,” Lenderman said. “We felt like it was important to synchronize our efforts to make sure we’re all moving in the same direction.”
The community beyond the base is getting excited about the prospects, and events that typically go on each year — such things as an annual ball and an enlisted dinner — are expected to have centennial themes.
The nearest communities — Mascoutah, Shiloh, O’Fallon and Belleville — have grown and prospered because of the base. It was members of those communities who successfully defended Scott during the Base Realignment Commission talks of the past three decades.
Each year, the city of O’Fallon, village of Shiloh and the O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee stage a Salute to Scott Picnic and Luncheon. The latest was held in June.
O’Fallon Mayor Gary L. Graham said the event is held at O’Fallon Community Park to show appreciation for base personnel and to increase awareness of the important relationships that exist between Scott, its staff and surrounding communities.
“Scott Air Force Base, and the men and women who work there, are a vital part of our community,” Graham said last month. “Recognizing areas of mutual concern including housing, public services and commerce has been important in keeping the base open. The Military Affairs Committee continues to work diligently to keep us all aware of this relationship.”
Today, Scott is a regional employment power recognized worldwide.
“We have 13,000 people that come on and off the installation every day, in a working capacity. Military and civilian. That includes retirees as well. We say that we support 26,000 retirees and over 46,000 to 48,000 people total,” Lenderman said. “It’s a great place to retire.”
Many servicemen and women retire and transition from active duty into the headquarters in a civilian capacity.
History of Scott AFB
Since his arrival last year, Daniel P. Williams, the civilian historian attached to the 375th Air Mobility Wing, has plowed through the archives, studying Scott’s past.
Scott was initially leased in June 1917 and by Sept. 1 of that year was officially established as Scott Field. Today, it is recognized as the fourth-oldest continuously operating base in the Air Force. It is named in honor of Cpl. Frank W. Scott, who in 1912 became the first enlisted man to die in an aviation accident.
Initially the field was a big part of World War I training.
“Pilots would come and train in our aircraft here, the (Curtiss) JN-4 Jenny’s and the (De Havilland) DH-4’s. Then they would go from here right over to the war effort in France and England,” Williams said.
Aeromedical evacuations, which today are so much a part of the base’s missions, got their start with the very first evacuation in 1918 from a field in Mascoutah, he said.
After 1919 the land was officially purchased by the federal government.
“Its mission was unknown at that point,” Williams said, “but what happened for the first couple of years, with demobilization from World War I, you saw transitioning of soldiers. As they were being mustered out into the civilian world that’s how they did it, coming through here.”
Scott base changed with the times. By 1921 it became a lighter-than-air station for dirigibles. Scott had the second-largest airship hangar in the United States to accommodate the aerial specialty.
By 1937, the Army Air Corps (the immediate predecessor of the U.S. Army Air Forces, which was established on June 20, 1941) was considering moving its General Headquarters Air Force from Langley Field in Virginia to Scott. However, history got in the way. The outbreak of World War II convinced the military instead to make Scott central to its communications needs.
The military turned the base into a radio school.
“That’s where our ‘Comm’ group roots start,” Williams said. “Air to air, air to ground, ground to air, all the technical stuff. They fixed and repaired radio equipment. We were a radio school really until 1959 before all that stuff moved.”
Soon thereafter, the next phase of mission sets began, when larger headquarters began to be transferred to Scott.
By 1964, aeromedical evacuations were taking place in earnest. In 1966, the 375th showed up as a host wing, taking on those flights.
“By 1975, we were the single point of all patient movement for all of DoD,” Williams said.
Most of Scott’s modern-era mission partners arrived in the second half of the past century, part of the so-called “total force associations” when various guards and reserves began partnering with the active duty components.
The 932nd Airlift Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit, arrived in 1963. Along with the 375th, it flies operational support airlift for priority passengers.
The Illinois Air Natural Guard came in 1999, with the arrival of the 126th Air Refueling Wing, which conducts worldwide air refueling missions.
The two major commands that the host wing falls under are the U.S. Transportation Command (since 1987) and the Air Mobility Command (since 1992).
USTRANSCOM is the single manager of the U.S.’ global defense transportation system, tasked with the coordination of people and transportation assets to allow the U.S. to send and sustain forces, whenever they are needed and as long as they are needed.
Air Mobility’s mission is to provide global air mobility, transporting troops and supplies, moving wounded warriors, refueling and providing humanitarian support.
Air Mobility Command’s predecessor organizations, MATS (Military Air Transportation Service) and Military Airlift Command, came to Scott in 1957 and 1966 respectively.
“Air Mobility Command is in charge of organizing, equipping and training us. They make sure we have the airplanes to fly, the people to fly them, and the people and parts to fix them. Likewise, 18th Air Force is the warfighting or execution arm of the mobility air forces,” Lenderman said.
The 18th Air Force has been at Scott since 2003.
In all, there are 31 mission partners. Among major units (not already mentioned) are: the 618th Air Operations Center, Air Force Network Integration Center, Defense Information Systems Agency, the Army’s Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, and the 635th Supply Chain Operations Wing.
The 18th Air Force is the largest “numbered” Air Force in the military. In the chain of command, the 375th falls below the 18th.
Today, there are about a dozen major commands within the Air Force. Before Desert Storm, there were three main commands for organizing, training and equipping its troops with warfighting assets — the Military Airlift Command, the Strategic Air Command and the Tactical Air Command.
After Desert Storm there was a drawdown in the military — personnel went from about 600,000 to today’s 311,000. Along with those reductions came significant reorganization that took the three major commands down to two. One is Air Combat Command at Langley. The other is Air Mobility Command, based at Scott.
“We continued on with the Military Airlift Command mission we had, which was primarily at the time airlift and aeromedical evacuation, but after Desert Storm we added air refueling,” Lenderman said.
Scott AFB is unique
Lenderman says the number of headquarters and support units makes the base unique.
And the parts keep growing.
One of the oldest organizations on the base is Defense Information Systems Agency Global, here since 1963. However, it is about to open a new building in a brand new location, for which the grand opening ceremony will be Aug. 11.
“They have a tremendous responsibility,” she said, pointing out DISA’s role in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and feeds for remotely aircraft overseas. “They are responsible for maintaining the networks that control the ability to get information to the people who need it.”
Adding to the cyber mission here, the 688th Cyber Operations Group was established at Scott in December. The group started with 100 members and should grow to around 300, she said.
“They actually belong to Air Force Space Command, but it ties in nicely with our comm group,” Lenderman said. “They are responsible for a large portion of the email traffic and the networks within the Air Force. Things that happen out in (places like) California, they can be traced and fixed here.”
Lenderman gets to repeat the Scott story often. She speaks frequently in the community and also conducts an every other week briefing for newcomers.
“I love sharing the story about Scott AFB because it’s so unique in all the missions that we’re supporting here,” she said. “People come here from all across the Air Force who may be used to only supporting a flying mission. And while we do have an important flying mission and partnerships with the Guard and Reserve in those flying missions, the majority of our folks are in a comm, logistical or other type of support role. We’re proud of that because we know we’re contributing to the Air Force and DoD national objectives. We look forward to supporting our nation for the next 100 years, too.”
Largest groups by military members assigned to Scott AFB
(Numbers as of June 2)
Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, 2,381
Air Mobility Command, 1,779
932nd Airlift Wing, 1,574
126th Air Refueling Wing, 864
Defense Information Systems Agency, 763
Transportation Command, 746
618th Air Operations Center, 581
635th Supply Chain Operations Wing, 420
Air Force Network Integration Center, 216
18th Air Force, 73