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Historian preserves 20th FW history

Christopher Koonce, 20th Fighter Wing historian, holds a 1942 edition of the Shaw Field Flight-Line newspaper at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., July 12, 2017. As the wing historian, Koonce documents the ever-changing warfighter environment, at home and while deployed, by gathering data in historical documents, writing in archives and sharing knowledge with others. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

Christopher Koonce, 20th Fighter Wing historian, holds a 1942 edition of the Shaw Field Flight-Line newspaper at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., July 12, 2017. As the wing historian, Koonce documents the ever-changing warfighter environment, at home and while deployed, by gathering data in historical documents, writing in archives and sharing knowledge with others. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Throughout its more than 75 year history, Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, has experienced many changes in its mission.

As time passes and the installation changes, Airmen risk losing pieces of history.

While working to preserve 20th Fighter Wing history, Christopher Koonce, 20th FW historian, said his job is to document the ever-changing warfighter environment at home and while deployed overseas, maintaining a storehouse of the wing's dynamic history.

“I’ve always been interested in history since I was a little kid,” said Koonce. “I like discussing history topics with people. Especially our unit’s history; letting people know where we come from.”

By gathering data, writing historical narratives, updating historical archives and sharing information with others, Koonce aids leaders in making decisions that could affect the entire wing.

“They learn from (the information) and they’re able to add to their knowledge so that when they make decisions in the future, they can look back and say, ‘Well, this is why (past leaders) did that,’” said Koonce.

When Koonce’s records are unable to provide the data leaders need, he contacts colleagues across the Air Force.

Following the catastrophic flooding in South Carolina during October 2015, Koonce reached out to Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, to gather information which could be used by Shaw leaders.

“(I received) studies on the big flood they had there a few years ago to kind of help us with our planning in the after effects of the flood,” said Koonce.

The historian is also vital to organizations that were once stationed in South Carolina, such as the 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, now located at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

Because the 363rd ISRW operated at Shaw for more than 40 years, some of the wing’s archives remained at the base when the wing relocated. Some of the history left behind was specific to the base’s buildings and land.

Whenever the 363rd ISRW needs to fill the historical gaps, Niklaas Waller, 363rd ISRW historian, works with Koonce.

Without the help and support from Shaw’s historian, Waller said he would not have been able to educate individuals in his wing about its history properly.

Occasionally, Koonce will receive requests from prior service members who used to be stationed at the base or family members trying to help veterans locate information.

In one instance, Koonce said he had a request from the son of a former service member who received an award while stationed at the base in 1962. Because his records contained newspapers dating back to 1942, Koonce found a printed photograph of the veteran accepting the award and sent a copy to the family.

Whether it is giving leaders what they need to learn from the experiences of others or helping veterans recover photos of their time at Shaw, Koonce works to ensure the 20th FW’s legacy is not forgotten.