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Sunday, September 26, 2010
From 'The Enchilada Air Force' to Tacos to Its Next Mission
By Charles D. Brunt
Journal Staff Writer
The New Mexico Air National Guard's 150th Fighter Wing traces its roots to July 7, 1947, when the 188th Fighter Bomber Squadron was federally recognized. The unit included a utility flight of Douglas A/B-26 Invader light bombers, a fighter squadron with 25 P-51 Mustangs and three T-6 Texan trainers and a small weather detachment. A year later, the 188th's mission was changed from fighter bomber to fighter-interceptor.
In December 1950, the unit was activated for the Korean War, and most of its members were assigned to Air Force units and dispatched to Japan and Korea.
Capt. Francis Williams and 1st Lt. Robert Sands were each credited with downing three MiG-15s. First Lts. Robert Lucas and Joseph Murray were killed while flying close air support missions in Korea. The unit, nicknamed "The Enchilada Air Force" for the impromptu Mexican food dinners they'd prepare for fellow airmen, was released from federal active duty in November 1952. In 1953, the unit received its first jet fighters, F-80 Shooting Stars.
In January 1958, the 188th traded its F-80s for F-100 Super Sabre jet aircraft. It was the first Air National Guard unit to receive the new jets.
In January 1968, the 188th Tactical Fighter Squadron was activated as the war in Vietnam heated up. In June 1968, about 250 maintenance and support personnel were deployed to coastal Tuy Hoa Air Base, 285 miles northeast of Saigon. Other personnel were assigned to various bases in South Korea.
The squadron — consisting of 22 F-100Cs, 2 two-seater F-100Fs and 25 pilots — arrived in Vietnam on June 7, 1968, and was assigned to the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing.
Squadron officials chose the call sign "Taco" for their Southeast Asia operations.
In Vietnam, the 188th flew more than 6,000 combat sorties and amassed upward of 630 medals and decorations before being released from federal active duty in June 1969. Capt. Michael Adams, Maj. Bobby Neeld and 1st Lt. Mitchell Lane died in combat.
The squadron left Vietnam on May 18, 1969.
In the mid-1970s, the Tacos transitioned to A-7D Corsair III fighters. By the early 1990s, they were flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Desert Storm and 9/11
In December 1990, 44 members of the unit's Security Police Flight and other members were deployed to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Storm. The last group returned home by May 1991.
In October 1995, the 150th Fighter Group was renamed the 150th Fighter Wing.
Within hours of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, F-16s from the 150th Fighter Wing were flying air patrols over key resources in the western United States, and continued to do so for several months. In October 2001, the unit deployed to Atlantic City, N.J., to assume 24-hour patrols in the sky over New York City.
Farewell to the fighters
The future of the wing came into question in April 2009 with the Pentagon's decision to cap purchases of the new F-22 Raptor — a stealthy fighter the 150th was hoping would replace its aging F-16s — and to speed up purchases of the less costly but equally stealthy F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter.
That plan also accelerated the retirement of 249 fourth-generation fighters during Fiscal Year 2010, including 112 F-15s, 134 F-16s and three A-10 Thunderbolt IIs.
All 21 of the Tacos' F-16s were included in the early retirement plan, and the last of those fighters are slated to leave the 150th's home at Kirtland Air Force Base today.
Besides the legacy of a 63-year-old fighter wing, about 1,000 jobs — one-third of which are held by full-time National Guardsmen — are affected by the loss of the Tacos' F-16s.
A year ago this month, National Guard officials announced the 150th Fighter Wing's new mission would involve a merger with the Air Force's 58th Special Operations Wing, which, like the 150th, is based at Kirtland.
The 58th Special Operations Wing — which does not fly fighters — trains about 2,200 military personnel a year in special operations and combat search-and-rescue missions and employs more than 1,800 personnel, according to the Air Force.
The 58th has five CV-22 Ospreys, tilt-rotor aircraft that combine the attributes of a turboprop airplane with those of a helicopter, and is slated to receive one more Osprey. The wing also flies four versions of the C-130 Hercules, as well as HH-60G Pave Hawk; the MH-53J Pave Low III and UH-1 Huey helicopters.
In all, the 58th has more than 60 aircraft.