By Master Sgt. Matt McCoy, 184th Public Affairs
Friends, coworkers, family members and veterans congregated in Hangar 41 at McConnell Air Force Base Sept. 10 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the 184th Intelligence Wing. Hugs, handshakes, laughter and stories of the “good ol’ days” from current and former members of the wing filled the atmosphere of the building that served as the unit’s main hangar since 1954.
“That’s really what this was all about—bringing these guys back together,” said Col. David Weishaar, commander, 184th IW. “You hear it all the time that the Guard’s a family…they’re acting like they’re at a family reunion.” The celebration opened with a formal presentation given by current commanders. As part of the presentation, the wing invited Retired Navy Capt. Thomas Flanary, son of Lt. Paul N. Flanary, the unit’s first commander, to speak to the audience.
“We knew that in looking back at 75 years, it was critically important that we had the right audience,” said Maj. Deb Balentine, director of staff, 184th Wing Staff. “The intent is to honor the past and make it clear to everyone that we continue to hold the same standards [of excellence].”
After the formal ceremonies, visitors were invited to look through old photos and memorabilia that were on display. Many attendees picked up their copy of the recently published history book, “Fighting Jayhawks: Seventy-Five Years of the Air National Guard in Wichita.” A 23-minute documentary that covered the unit’s history entertained guests as well. A time capsule from 1990 was opened and a commemorative bench, which will go in the Reflections of Freedom Airpark, was unveiled.
“We also have the young troops in our audience and they need to see where we came from, and pass the torch on to them, so at 100 years they can have a celebration like this and say some of the same things about this wing,” said Balentine, who was a member of the celebration planning committee.
The committee, which was organized by Senior Master Sgt. Pauly Arnold, chief, Information Protection office, began planning the celebration in late 2015.
“I would rank this as a huge success,” said Balentine. “Anytime you get all the seats filled and you have such an engaged crowd; to see everyone zeroed in on what we had on the screen, they were listening, they were playing along with us as we went. The turnout alone, to me, was a huge success.”
“I think it was great,” said Weishaar. “The work that was put into this and then the crowd that came out was just simply amazing. It brings back great memories.”
The History of the Wing
The story of the Fighting Jayhawks began well with the outbreak of war in Europe and the Pacific in the late 1930s. The War Department authorized strength increases in the Army in 1940, which included new units in the National Guard. Wichita was selected as the location for a National Guard aviation squadron that specialized in observation. The 127th Observation Squadron was federally recognized Aug. 4, 1941, and placed under the command of Lt. Paul N. Flanary, a Wichita native and a pilot instructor at the local Civil Aviation Authority training center.
Prior to departing for federal service, the unit’s insignia was chosen and the Jayhawk Squadron took flight. According to Flanary, “The Jayhawk represents the State of Kansas since this state is known as the Jayhawk State. The bird perched atop the clouds indicates aviation and being in the air, which applies to this squadron. Also, the presence of helmet and goggles adds to this impression. The observation angle is indicated by the binoculars hung around his neck.”
The Jayhawk Squadron served in the Pacific Theatre during World War II and was deactivated after the declaration of Allied victory in 1945.
The unit was reactivated in September 1946 as the 127th Fighter Squadron and has since flown many different aircraft, including fighters, bombers and aerial refuelers. The unit was activated during the Korean and Vietnam Conflicts, and has deployed members around the world in support of recent operations.
The unit was upgraded to a group in 1962 and renamed the 184th Fighter Group. In 1994, shortly after converting to a heavy bomber mission flying B-1Bs, the unit once again upgraded to a wing and was renamed the 184th Bomb Wing.
The unit has served as the 184th Intelligence Wing since 2007, and provides a wide range of cyber-centric mission capabilities. The wing also boasts of tactical ground operators and support functions, which inspired the unit’s slogan, “Many Missions…One Team. The Fighting Jayhawks.”