Fly Away to JBER

KULIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Alaska -- The 176th Wing completed perhaps the largest mission in its history Feb. 12, moving the entire wing from Kulis Air National Guard Base to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER).

"Although we love this area and will always be connected to it, JBER offers the wing growth as a team and a partnership that works," said Brig. Gen. Charles "Chuck" Foster, 176th Wing commander.

The Ceremony

The fly-away ceremony started on Kulis with short speeches from Brig. Gen. Deborah McManus, Alaska's assistant adjutant general for air, and Brig. Gen. Foster. The audience, over-filling a large room with military members and families, retirees and media, spilled out by the flight line. They watched and waved as five C-130 cargo planes, four HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters,and two HC-130 Hercules aircraft took off and circled around for a fly-by on their way to JBER.

Among the attendees were some notable names, including the son of the base's namesake, 1st Lt. Albert Kulis, and Col. (ret) Marjorie Paulson, the first female in the Alaska Guard. Paulson had been invited by McManus, who is the first female to command the Alaska Air National Guard.

"It's a very special day," Paulson said, referring nominally to the invite, but to the move as well.

After the planes departed, spectators loaded buses and were driven to the wing's new buildings on JBER. The group skirted the flight line to watch the aircraft fly in. As everyone gathered back inside Hangar 18, a flag-unfurling ceremony ensued. Foster and McManus were joined on the podium by Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, commander-in-chief of the Alaska National Guard; Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus, the Alaska National Guard's adjutant general; and Chief Master Sgt. David Streit, the 176th Wing's senior non-commissioned officer..

The ceremony ended with cake for all and a base tour for the distinguished visitors.

Wing History

The ceremony celebrating the relocation was dubbed "Coming Full Circle" in reference to the 176th Wing's history.

The 176th Wing started off as the 8144th Air Base Wing in 1952 with eleven enlisted, five officers and no planes. The small staff worked out of an office in downtown Anchorage. Shortly thereafter, the wing received one T-6G "Texan" trainer, and the members trained out of Elmendorf Air Force Base.

The wing underwent a series of changes in missions, aircrafts, size and location. It moved to the then-new Kulis Air National Guard Base in 1954 as the 144th Fighter-Bomber Squadron.

The 1960's through the 1990's brought even more growth and adjustment. In 1995, the organization became the 176th Wing.

Throughout the wing's history, it has been an integral part of the community and military. From the 1964 earthquake to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill to the myriad of plane crash victim recoveries, the 176th Wing has been one of Alaska's premier public-service organizations.

Why move?

The move to JBER has been five years in the making, fulfilling a mandate from the 2005 Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

As the United States grew in size and prosperity, military installations proliferated. Often, these bases were in close proximity to each other, and provided redundant services. By the late 1980s, the San Francisco bay area, for example, was dotted with dozens of bases.

In many cases, military leaders wanted the bases closed, believing the money spent to support them could be better spent on training, equipment and maintenance at a smaller number of bases. But closing even an unnecessary military base was politically difficult; typically, members of Congress strongly advocated for bases in their respective districts, and could be counted on to oppose closure.

To overcome this impasse, Congress in 1988 create the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), tasked with finding a politically feasible way to close some bases and integrate others. In the following years, more than 350 such bases were closed following the commission's recommendations.

In 2005, Kulis Air National Guard Base was among those the committee recommended closing. The committee recommended relocating the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Wing, which had been based at Kulis since 1955, to the much larger Elmendorf Air Force Base, located about eight miles to the northeast.

Together, the State of Alaska and the state's congressional delegation could have contested the move. However, in many ways, Alaska National Guard leadership considered the move a "good fit" for the 176th Wing, for several reasons.

* The recommendation came at a time when the 176th Wing was taking on a more global role. It was expected, over the next few years, to enter into a partnership with the active duty's Elmendorf-based 517th Airlift Squadron, supplying aircrews to help the 517th fly its C-17 Globemaster III long-range cargo jets all over the world.

* Additionally, the 176th Wing was expected to add another four C-130 tactical airlift planes, adding to the eight C-130s, four HC-130s and six Pave Hawk helicopters it was already flying.

* Some 176th Wing unit, (the 176th Air Control Squadron and the 206th Combat Communications Squadron), were already located at Elmendorf.

* In some ways, it would be a homecoming for the 176th Wing, which started in 1952 as the Elmendorf-based 8144th Air Base Wing before moving to the newly opened Kulis in 1955.

Because of these factors, Alaska's state and congressional representatives decided not to contest the move, instead embracing it as a key step in ensuring the continued growth and relevance of the wing.

"Having outgrown our old facilities, this gives us room to grow. It helps the active duty see the contributions of the guard to the overall fight," said Chief Master Sgt. Timothy Delph, a 144th Airlift Squadron flight engineer.

Getting settled

The actual moving of 176th Wing units began two years ago, with the 249th Airlift Squadron. This included crew chiefs and pilots for the wing's C-17 Globemaster Aircraft, as well as the planes themselves. This was followed by the 176th Medical Group's move to JBER in May 2010.

As guardsmen and community members adjust to the relocation, certain things add a note of comfort for them.

"Seeing the [Alaska Air National Guard's] static displays at JBER underlined the fact that Kulis had moved and this was home," Marshburn said.

The 176th Wing commander expressed confidence and hope.

"We have a great future here at JBER," Foster said in his speech in Hangar 18.
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