Hulman Field, Ind. --
John F. Kennedy once stated that, "Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."
This statement rings true throughout Hulman Field, Terre Haute Ind., where the 181st Intelligence Wing has spent the last few years in a constant state of change. As jets disappeared, leaving the flight line quiet and the hangars empty; 181st members rose to the challenges brought on by this change and became one of the most sophisticated and highly-trained Air National Guard wings in the U.S. Armed Forces - and earned an Air Force Outstanding Unit Award in the process.
"The transition period into new missions can be tough for any unit," said Col. Jeff Hauser, commander, 181st Intelligence Wing. "Yet, 181st members managed to maintain a high deployment tempo, stay focused on their training and continue to fulfill state and national missions. This vigilance was recognized and the unit has earned an Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for their efforts from Nov. 2006 to Oct. 2008."
After the end of the unit's fifty-three year old flying mission, resulting from the Base Realignment Closure and Total Force Initiatives process, more than 300 base personnel were prepared for cross training into support, intelligence and air support operations missions. Personnel were scattered throughout the country and into technical schools, many of which lasted several months to a year. During schools, many members were separated from their family, sometimes missing holidays and birthdays, all for the opportunity to stay involved within the base's new missions.
"It was tough for many of our members who had to go to long schools for retraining," Hauser explained. "But we managed to stay focused and we have the Distributive Ground Station up and running. It really goes to show we have outstanding Airmen. Their dedication to the unit, community and their country has been displayed over and over again."
The award acknowledges a two-year period when the 181st participated in high-visibility contingency operations in more than 16 worldwide locations, including; Operation Jump Start, Combat Hammer, Vigilant Guard, Operation Snowbird and Operation Iraqi Freedom. In true Racer fashion, 181st members who were not deployed or at school volunteered to build and distribute more than 15,000 sandbags; receive and distribute more than 30,000 gallons of drinking during the June 2008 floods that devastated many areas in and around the Wabash Valley. All of this was accomplished while the unit was in transition.
"While we have put major emphasis on our new missions, our Support and Medical Groups here are second to none," said Col. Chris Colbert, vice commander, 181st Intelligence Wing. "We have base security, engineers, communications, services, logistics and other support personnel who have maintained their focus through this entire transition period and literally held the 181st flag high. They have been deployed and kept the local mission on track."
The Distributive Ground Station mission is now operational, and the integration into an Intelligence Wing is complete. The Air Support Operations Squadron is continuing to accomplish training requirements and is scheduled to be at initial operational capability by June 2010. The surprise of earning an outstanding achievement award during this transition time can be heard from several 181st members, but the tough times working through the in-between missions is explanation enough for many.
"I was definitely surprised to hear about the award," said TSgt Mary Galloway. "But it has been rough. We've seen people come and go and even our job here in LRS has changed drastically. Everyone out here should be proud of what we've accomplished and the award will do just that."
Some Wing members who are new to the unit were surprised to learn the unit had earned its fourth Outstanding Unit award, but also felt that the award signifies a successful transition.
"The recognition is a good thing," said A1C Chris Weatherford, 181st Security Forces. "It really shows that we did an outstanding job of ramping up for the new missions."
The 181st Intelligence Wing is currently setting the example for other Guard units who could be transitioning in the future. For the unit's exceptional performance under abnormal conditions, all unit members will be authorized to wear the Outstanding Unit Award ribbon. Considered the award for the best of the best in the Air National Guard, 181st members should be proud to wear the ribbon that represents yet another successful piece in the unit's history of excellence.