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The Top 10 Moments in SCANG History

  • Published
  • By Lt.Col. Jim St.Clair
  • 169th Fighter Wing/Public Affairs

Semper Primus. Latin for Always First. The motto of the South Carolina Air National Guard exemplifies what the men and women of the SCANG have aimed for and achieved over the last 75 years. The Swamp Fox emblem is recognized worldwide as the symbol of excellence in combat capability.

With the SCANG’s Diamond Anniversary on Dec. 9, 2021, it would seem an impossible task to select only 10 highlights from the last 75 years. So many people did so many great things, if we tried to list all of them it might take years to do it. However, here is a subjective list of what are the most notable achievements and events that have happened so far.

10. SCANG crowned Gunsmoke ‘89 World Champions

In 1989, the South Carolina Air National Guard went head-to-head against the U.S. Air Force’s best in the worldwide gunnery competition known as Gunsmoke. When the dust settled, the SCANG was crowned “World Champions.”

The biennial competition was held at Nellis AFB, Nev.. 16 teams from around the Air Force (active, Guard and Reserve) participated in the event for ten days in October 1989.

Aircrews were graded on three events: basic bomb delivery, tactical bomb delivery, and navigation attack. Maintenance crews were graded on their overall effectiveness throughout the competition and munitions crews were judged on precision, technical expertise and safety. The overall unit winner was determined by the most points scored in all three areas.

The SCANG spent two weeks in September 1989 at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona in order to prepare. The SCANG’s team was led by Maj. George “Jet” Jernigan. It included 43 Swamp Foxes like SCANG fellow legends Majs. John “Bullet” Bellinger and Tim “Demo” Rush.

When it was all said and done, the SCANG emerged as the overall winner of Gunsmoke ’89. Jernigan attributed the victory to three sources: faith of God, family support and unwavering teamwork and dedication of members of the SCANG, to their country, to their state, and to each other. “We took the oldest aircraft and beat the best in the world,” he said.

9. State Partnership with the Republic of Colombia

In 2012, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and Colombian Vice Minister of Defense Jorge Enrique Bedoya signed a partnership proclamation formally establishing a bilateral relationship between South Carolina and the Republic of Colombia in the National Guard’s State Partnership Program (SPP).

The National Guard’s SPP links U.S. states with partner countries for the purposes of supporting the objectives and goals of the geographic combatant commander and the U.S. ambassador. The SPP promotes national security objectives, country and regional stability, partner nation capacity and improved understanding and trust throughout the world. The bilateral relationship between South Carolina and Colombia was the 64th state partnership in the program’s history.

Since becoming the Republic of Colombia’s state partner, South Carolina has worked closely with the Colombian Air Force by sending F-16s to conduct bilateral training as well as participating in key leader engagements with the Colombian military and the biennial Colombian F-AIR air show.

8. Active Associate program starts at McEntire JNGB

In 2007, regular Air Force active duty Airmen started arriving at Shaw AFB to work at McEntire JNGB as part of the largest active associate program in the Air Force. All-in-all, 150 active duty personnel would be assigned to McEntire JNGB at any one time to work and train and this innovative and groundbreaking program continues to this day.

The active association concept leverages the deep experience levels and proficiency of Air Guard units to help regular Air Force personnel learn their jobs at a quickened pace. This key component of Total Force Integration addresses some critical challenges faced by the Air Force’s fighter force, including a shortage of experienced pilots and available cockpits. The active association provides additional cockpits for active-duty F-16 pilots and fast-tracks pilot and maintenance experience levels by partnering them with highly-experienced Air Guard members. 

The additional manpower also enables the SCANG to generate the increased sorties required to train those pilots at home and increases McEntire JNGB's contributions to Combatant Commanders in the form of longer deployment tours while in theater.

The combination of additional aircraft and manpower enabled the SCANG to conduct 120-day deployments every 20-month Air Expeditionary Force cycle. This was proven in 2010 when the 169th Fighter Wing became the first Air National Guard unit to support an AEF mission for a full 120 day rotation without “rainbowing” with other units. The SCANG simultaneously deployed Airmen to support Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

7. First ANG unit to get F-16s and First unit to get Block 52s

The history of the SCANG is replete with firsts. But two “firsts” in particular stand out for impacting the SCANG’s mission today.

In 1983, the 169th Fighter Wing transitioned to the airframe it still flies today. Beginning in April, the SCANG converted from the A-7 Corsair fighter to the new F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft, the first unit in the Air National Guard to get this state-of-the-art jet fighter. The F-16 is a single seat, multi-role fighter capable of performing air-to-air and air-to-ground tactical missions.

The significance of gaining the F-16 into the SCANG cannot be overstated. Local newspapers at the time noted the historical impact of this achievement in an editorial which stated:

"Assignment of the F-16s here also marks the increased role in national defense to be played by the Air Guard. These modern fighters and the high state of readiness of the Air Guard are important elements in our ability to respond quickly to a national emergency. We salute the S.C. Air National Guard. The recognition has been earned."

And due to the unit’s sterling reputation and coming on the heels of its Gunsmoke win in 1989, it’s fitting then that in February 1994, the newest and most advanced F-16s in the Air Force inventory, the Block 52s, started arriving at McEntire JNGB. These are the same aircraft that the SCANG flies today.

6. Korean War call-up

In late June 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea sparking the Korean War. United Nations and United States intervention soon followed. As a result, on Oct. 10, 1950, the entire South Carolina Air National Guard was mobilized for active duty for a period of 21 months. 56 officers and 255 enlisted men were initially sent to Lawson AFB, Ga. where they received a change of mission, change of name and change of aircraft. All SCANG units were consolidated into the 157th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron and after initially training on the RF-51 aircraft, in the summer of 1951 they eventually transitioned to the long awaited new RF-80 Shooting Star jets, the first jets assigned to the Air National Guard.

Later in January 1952, a group of pilots and support crews, including SCANG commander Lt. Col. Barnie McEntire, were finally sent to Europe and a few SCANG pilots volunteered for combat and were sent to Korea. By July 1952, the SCANG members who didn’t go overseas were back at Congaree Air Base. By the beginning of 1953, the pilots and crews who had gone to Europe were finally released back to the South Carolina Air National Guard.

5. Berlin Crisis call-up

In 1961, international tensions were flaring up and the Soviet Union raised a wall separating East Berlin from West Berlin in Germany. 

In response to this threat, on Oct. 9, 1961, the SCANG called up 747 men to active duty with a November 1 report date at Congaree Air Base. Dozens of Air National Guard units from across the country were also mobilized and the SCANG got the call because of its new F-104 fighter jets.

The SCANG didn’t even know where it was being sent to. First they were supposed to go to Bitburg, West Germany. Then it switched to Moron Air Base, Spain. Eventually half of the SCANG went to Spain as an “augmented squadron” and the rest were scattered around Europe. South Carolina Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Frank Pinckney, protested but the Air Force didn’t back down from their mobilization plan. “Breaking up a team that has been working smoothly hardly seems the logical thing to do – especially when the need was for units rated combat ready,” the State newspaper editorialized at the time. Interestingly, the F-104 Starfighters were shipped to Europe by being partially disassembled and flown aboard C-124 Globemaster transport aircraft and then reassembled after they arrived. After almost a year and a half after, international pressure had simmered down. On Aug. 15, 1962, all 747 officers and Airmen were released from active duty.

South Carolina Congressman Mendel Rivers stated that West German Chancellor Conrad Adenauer believed the primary factor influencing Soviet leadership on the showdown over Berlin was the swift and decisive buildup of American forces, especially the 157th Tactical Fighter Squadron.

4. Desert Shield/ Desert Storm

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, the SCANG started preparing for its first overseas call-up since the Berlin Crisis in 1961. In November 1990, the 169th Services Flight sent 27 personnel and the 240th Combat Communications Squadron sent 80 personnel to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield. Later in December, the SCANG deployed 650 more personnel along with 24 F-16s to Saudi Arabia to prepare for Operation Desert Storm which kicked off on Jan. 17, 1991. The Swamp Foxes led the way into Iraq and Kuwait to implement its suppression of enemy air defenses mission, referred to as SEAD. The SEAD mission paved the way for the most devastating and overwhelming air campaign in history.

During Desert Storm, the SCANG flew 2,000 combat missions and dropped 4 million pounds of munitions all while maintaining the highest aircraft mission capable rate in the theater. It was another triumph for the SCANG and demonstrated its unsurpassed combat capability.

3. Reserve force to operational force 

The last 25 years have seen the South Carolina Air National Guard evolve from a reserve force to an operational force with a global presence.

After supporting numerous post Desert Storm deployments to Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar for Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch, the SCANG really came into its own during multiple deployments, supporting the Global War on Terrorism following the 9-11 attacks.

Starting in 2002, the SCANG deployed to Qatar to support Operation Enduring Freedom, another first in the Air National Guard. That year also saw separate deployments for the 240th Combat Communications Squadron to Kyrgyzstan as well as the 245th Air Traffic Control Squadron to Afghanistan.

Subsequent GWOT deployments would include Qatar again in 2003 for Operation Iraqi Freedom. The 169th Security Forces Squadron and 169th Civil Engineer Squadron would deploy to Kuwait and Iraq respectively in 2006.

Thanks to its groundbreaking active associate program, in 2010 the 169th Fighter Wing became the first Air National Guard unit to support an Air Expeditionary Force mission for a full 120 day rotation. While simultaneously deploying Airmen for Operation Enduring Freedom, the wing also deployed 300 Airmen in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This unprecedented deployment saw SCANG F-16s escort the last U.S. Army combat forces out of Iraq, a fitting end as the SCANG had been there on day one of Operation Iraqi Freedom back in 2003.

In 2012, the SCANG deployed its jets and personnel again to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. This deployment was followed by subsequent ‘Theater Support Package’ deployments to Jordan in 2014 and South Korea in 2016. Air Expeditionary Force rotations would follow in 2018 to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in 2021.

Finally the SCANG sent F-16s to support NATO exercises in Poland in 2015 and Sweden in 2019. All these deployments and exercises over the last 25 years have refined the SCANG’s warfighting capability and made it the premier F-16 unit in the U.S. Air Force.

2. Brig. Gen. McEntire is killed in an F-104 crash and Congaree Air Base is re-named in his honor

On May 25, 1961, the quiet voice of Brig. Gen. Barnie B. McEntire radioed a distress call to his wingman, Col. Robert H. Morrell, shortly after the pair took off in their        F-104 jets from Olmstead AFB in Harrisburg, Pa.  

"Bob, I'm having some difficulty,” were the last words of the SCANG's first commander, a man who at his death on May 25,1961, was the youngest Air Guard general in the United States- a mere 42 years old. McEntire was killed moments later, still strapped in the seat of his F-104 Starfighter which crashed into the Susquehanna River.

A Certificate of Valor citation presented posthumously by the Governor of Pennsylvania read in part:

“General McEntire was at sufficient altitude and flying at sufficient air speed that would have permitted him to eject safely from his aircraft. However, the use of this particular runway at Olmstead leads directly to the heavily populated areas of Harrisburg and the West Shore communities. An aircraft abandoned after takeoff on this runway would surely land in these built up areas and result in casualties among the inhabitants. McEntire never attempted to utilize his escape system, but from eyewitness reports, brought his aircraft in for a water landing, which was the only possible place he could land his aircraft without causing injury or death to others. General McEntire, in performing this act of self-sacrifice, saved the nearby community and its inhabitants from possible death and destruction. His thoughts were concerned with the welfare of others and not of himself.” 

Ironically, McEntire and Morrell were in Pennsylvania to meet with USAF officials about the F-104’s record of maintenance problems and fatal crashes. It was prescient that McEntire left their meeting that day with these fateful words: “Either do something about it immediately, or you will have some dead pilots on your hands."

Possibly, the general himself was a victim of dilatory bureaucracy. Or perhaps he was merely another statistic of a high performance aircraft which continued to claim the lives of pilots who flew it. Immediately after his fatal crash, an engine modification including 41 separate improved items was approved by the USAF Air Material Command. All of these improvements had been asked for by McEntire and Morrell at the May conference.

On Nov. 10, 1961, Congaree Air Base was renamed McEntire Air National Guard Base in his honor. At the base renaming ceremony, Governor Ernest Hollings remarked "His memory shall live as long as appreciation for leadership and dedication to duty remain in the minds of men. What we do here this afternoon is pay respect in the most tangible way we know. As long as this base stands, all will know and remember him and his sacrifice."

1. First Muster

This is the big one. Without this event, none of everything else that followed would have happened.

The night of Dec. 9, 1946 was cold and dark at Congaree Air Base in lower Richland County, S.C. That night 14 officers and 36 enlisted men reported for duty for what was the South Carolina Air National Guard’s first muster. Those 50 Swamp Foxes could hardly imagine they were making history when they showed up that Monday night after working all day at their civilian jobs. But they heeded the call of their state and nation. That unglamorous first unit training assembly set the stage for the greatness that was to come over the next 75 years.

The humble beginnings of the South Carolina Air National Guard can be traced to the vision of South Carolina’s Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. James C. Dozier, who created the SCANG in the wake of World War II. “I believe in preparedness. I recognized the need for a strong Air Guard,” Dozier said at the time. And so with no base, no planes, no pilots, and no mechanics, Dozier set out to recruit the nucleus to build the SCANG.

Dozier handpicked future Swamp Fox legends like Maj. Robert Morrell and Lt. Col. Barnie McEntire to lead the new South Carolina Air National Guard. Morrell was the first officer signed by Dozier for the SCANG. McEntire was next and would be the unit’s first commander and later first general officer. From this legacy, the SCANG has grown, prospered and evolved into the world’s premier F-16 unit.

And the rest, as they say, is history. As the SCANG begins the final 25 years leading to its centennial in 2046, its motto ‘Semper Primus’ remains as true today as it was back on the night of Dec. 9, 1946. Whenever called, overseas or at home, the men and women of the SCANG stand ready to protect the nation and their local communities.

The SCANG is always first and will always be first. The SCANG is 75 years young and just getting started. We are your South Carolina Air National Guard. Happy Diamond Anniversary!