HISTORY OF THE 432D WING AND 432D AIR EXPEDITIONARY WING
The illustrious history of the 432d “Hunters” began with the activation of the 432d Observation Group on Feb. 22, 1943, at Alachua Army Air Field, Fla., to train cadres for new groups and squadrons as the nation continued to prepare forces for war. After redesignation as the 432d Reconnaissance Group, and a transfer to Keystone Army Air Field, Fla., a revamped training program offered basic and flying training, and instruction on subjects that included chemical warfare, aircraft recognition, security and censorship. The Army Air Force inactivated the group on Nov. 1, 1943, shortly after its redesignation as the 432d Tactical Reconnaissance Group. Just over a decade later, on March 18, 1954, the group returned to active status at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., to provide tactical reconnaissance capabilities. In early 1959, after consolidating its lineage with the 432d Tactical Reconnaissance Wing’s, the unit ran the U.S. Air Force Advanced Flying School, Tactical Reconnaissance briefly before inactivating on May 17, 1959.
Activated once again on Aug. 19, 1966, the 432 TRW formed up a month later on Sep. 18, 1966, at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. Thus began the most defining era of the unit’s history, one that forged a legacy of valor, courage and steadfastness that buttresses the warfighting traditions carried on by today’s Hunters. As before, the role that initially personified the “hunt” in Vietnam for the 432d was tactical aerial reconnaissance in support of other combat operations. This changed one year later, with the arrival and assignment of seven tactical fighter squadrons to the wing, as its mission set expanded to include combat air patrols against MiGs and ground strike operations. To be sure, the Hunters embraced the intensification of their combat role. Between Dec. 17, 1967, and Jan. 8, 1973, the wing’s squadrons received credit for 36 confirmed MiG kills. Sixteen of those came from the Air Force’s only Vietnam era “Aces,” each one a Hunter. Three in all, they included Capt. Charles B. DeBellevue, of the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, credited with downing two MiG-19s and four MiG-21s; Capt. Jeffrey S. Feinstein, of the 13 TFS, credited with downing five MiG-21s; and lastly Capt. Richard S. Ritchie, of the 555 TFS, credited with downing five MiG-21s.
Not all landmark events in that war occurred in the air, as with the case of Capt. Roger C. Locher of the 555 TFS. Shot down on May 10, 1972, Locher evaded captivity for 23 days before being rescued. The rescue itself, the deepest such mission into North Vietnam territory by American forces, is still deemed one of the most successful combat evasion chapters of the war. After participating in 14 of the 17 air campaigns of the Vietnam War, in Jan. 1973 the 432d officially ended operations in that country. Still, combat air operations continued that year in Laos until February and in Cambodia until August. After implementation of the cease-fire accords, the 432nd remained in Thailand to conduct routine reconnaissance and training missions. In belated recognition of its new mission set, it became the 432d Tactical Fighter Wing on Nov. 15, 1974. In April 1975, the wing supported the evacuation of American and Allied personnel from Cambodia and South Vietnam. That same year, the 432d played a key role in finding and recovering the American freighter, S.S. Mayaguez. Relieved of all operational duties on Nov. 30, 1975, the 432d inactivated on Dec. 23 of the same year.
This time the highly decorated flag of the 432d did not remain furled for long. After redesignation as the 432d Tactical Drone Group, the unit activated May 24, 1976, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., to conduct follow-on and evaluation testing of the AQM-34V unmanned drone. The 432d carried out parallel initial operational testing of the drone’s DC-130H “mothership” as well. This brief venture into yet another mission area ended, for a time at least, with the group’s inactivation in 1979. On July 1, 1984, the unit activated at Misawa Air Base, Japan, as the 432d Tactical Fighter Wing. Serving as the host base unit, the 432 TFW flew F-16 Viper aircraft in support of a tactical employment mission. Using Misawa as a test base for a new wing organizational structure, popularly referred to as the “one wing, one base, one boss” concept, the Air Force redesignated the unit as the 432d Fighter Wing on May 31, 1991. This concept led to the assignment of a third flying squadron to the 432 FW, with operational control of the 39th Rescue Squadron’s four HH-60G “Black Hawk” helicopters ceded to the wing by the Air Rescue Service on Feb. 1, 1993. On Oct. 1, 1994, the 432 FW inactivated at Misawa as the 35th Fighter Wing stood up there.
The veteran combat unit returned to active service on May 1, 2007, at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., as the 432d Wing, and formed the U.S. Air Force’s first unmanned (later remotely piloted) aircraft systems wing. In doing so, the 432d took charge of existing and rapidly expanding unmanned precision attack and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance combat missions there in support of overseas contingency operations. On May 15, 2008, the provisional 432d Air Expeditionary Wing activated at Creech to offer the fullest possible spectrum of leadership to these fights, while complementing the operate, train and equip efforts of the 432d Wing. Within a few short, frenzied and grueling years the Hunters quadrupled their output of MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper combat lines. Sprinting off the 250,000 flight hours mark hit in mid-2007, set over the course of 12 years—they hit the 500,000 flight hours mark in early 2009, the 1 million flight hours mark in early 2011, and then the 2 million mark in late 2013.
The unrelenting uptick in the RPA Enterprise’s size and scope led to parallel, remarkable organizational changes to the 432d Wing and Creech-based associates in 2012 and beyond. Among them, the standup of a 799th Air Base Group under the host base 99th Air Base Wing in August, and shortly thereafter the activation of the 732d Operations Group under the 432d Wing in September. On the total force side, Air Force Reserve Command activated the 726th Operations Group at Creech in December 2014 to serve alongside the Hunters. Two more active duty squadrons joined the wing in 2015 and a third in 2016. Elements of the wing’s operations and maintenance units began to transform that latter year following the Air Force’s decision to retire the MQ-1 Predator fleet from active service. The 432d Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s Tiger Aircraft Maintenance Unit launched its first MQ-9 Reaper that summer, shortly after the service redesignated the wing’s flying mission units as attack squadrons.
The fall of 2017 saw the start of a transitional period for the 432d Air Expeditionary Wing with the October standup of the Twelfth Air Force’s Persistent Attack and Reconnaissance Operations Center at Creech. The cooperative partnership of the 432 AEW and PAROC complements the wing’s historic and critical RPA Enterprise coordination and support role. At the same time, the 432d Wing remained a critical pillar of the Enterprise by providing an underpinning of leadership for an expansion under the Air Force’s RPA Culture and Process Improvement Program. Groundwork for a second RPA wing under CPIP began with the 2018 assignment of the 25th Operations Group and three squadrons at Shaw AFB, South Carolina, to the 432d Wing. Furthermore, at year’s end, the wing’s 732d Operations Group gained another squadron at Creech AFB, Nevada. In July 2019, the wing’s 432d Mission Support Group stood up to implement a transition in stewardship for Creech AFB with the inactivation of the 99 ABW’s 799 ABG.
(Current as of September 2019)