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20th FW celebrates 70th birthday

A P-51 Mustang flies above an F-16CM Fighting Falcon during a Heritage Flight performance at the New York Air Show at Stewart International Airport, N.Y., July 1, 2017. The 20th Fighter Wing, created July 28, 1947, began its journey flying P-51D Mustangs and currently flies F-16CM Fighting Falcons, providing combat-ready F-16 airpower and suppression of enemy air defenses. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sean Sweeney)

A P-51 Mustang flies above an F-16CM Fighting Falcon during a Heritage Flight performance at the New York Air Show at Stewart International Airport, N.Y., July 1, 2017. The 20th Fighter Wing, created July 28, 1947, began its journey flying P-51D Mustangs and currently flies F-16CM Fighting Falcons, providing combat-ready F-16 airpower and suppression of enemy air defenses. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sean Sweeney)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ball, 20th Fighter Group deputy commander and F-84 Thunderjet pilot, lands at Shaw Field, S.C., Feb. 17, 1948. This was the first jet aircraft landing at Shaw. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ball, 20th Fighter Group deputy commander and F-84 Thunderjet pilot, lands at Shaw Field, S.C., Feb. 17, 1948. This was the first jet aircraft landing at Shaw. (Courtesy photo)

The Aug. 15, 1947 edition of the Shaw Field News announces the creation of the 20th Fighter Wing (FW) next to a photo of Col. P. K. Morrill, Jr., the first 20th FW commander. The 20th FW, currently stationed at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., is celebrating its 70th anniversary on July 28, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Destinee Sweeney)

The Aug. 15, 1947 edition of the Shaw Field News announces the creation of the 20th Fighter Wing (FW) next to a photo of Col. P. K. Morrill, Jr., the first 20th FW commander. The 20th FW, currently stationed at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., is celebrating its 70th anniversary on July 28, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Destinee Sweeney)

The 20th Pursuit Group, Fighter Group and Fighter-Bomber Group insignia from 1934-1955, top, and the 20th Fighter Wing insignia from 1991 to present. The blue portion of the crest represents the sky, the primary theatre of Air Force operations, the yellow portion represents the sun and excellence of Air Force members, and the red portion represents courage and valor highlighting the wing’s motto, “Victory by Valor,” displayed below the shields. (Courtesy graphic)

The 20th Pursuit Group, Fighter Group and Fighter-Bomber Group insignia from 1934-1955, top, and the 20th Fighter Wing insignia from 1991 to present. The blue portion of the crest represents the sky, the primary theatre of Air Force operations, the yellow portion represents the sun and excellence of Air Force members, and the red portion represents courage and valor highlighting the wing’s motto, “Victory by Valor,” displayed below the shields. (Courtesy graphic)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- The 20th Fighter Wing serves the Air Force as the primary suppression of enemy air defenses wing, preparing and employing combat-ready SEAD and attack F-16CM Fighting Falcon airpower.

On July 28, the 20th FW will celebrate its 70th anniversary while assigned to its birthplace, Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, then, Shaw Field.

Though the squadrons under the wing can be traced back to August 1917 with the creation of the 55th Aero Construction Squadron, and later the creation of the 77th, 78th and 79th Aero Squadrons, the wing itself began in 1947 as a Ninth Air Force unit.

“We already knew we were going to be the Air Force by the time the wing stood up,” said Christopher Koonce, 20th FW historian. “There was this transition period where Air Force transitional leaders wanted the wing to be the primary combat unit of the Air Force, instead of the group. A lot of groups became wings, except for ours. The 20th Operations Group is the 20th Fighter Group from World War II. They made a new wing and attached the 20th Fighter Group to the wing.”

At the time, the 55th, 77th, and 79th Fighter Squadrons were assigned to the 20th Fighter Group flying P-51 Mustangs, later on in February 1948, the group exchanged the Mustangs for F-84 Thunderjets.

“The F-84 is the first fighter jet that the Air Force used with a jet engine in it,” said Koonce. “It gave us a lot more speed and agility to be able to combat our foes. It gave us an upper hand in the beginning.”

The 20th FW used the F-84s to train new aviators, both American and those from allied nations, creating one of the first generations of jet pilots.

After being redesignated as the 20th Fighter Bomber Wing on Jan. 20, 1950, the wing moved to Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, a year later to become a fully-trained nuclear capable fighter unit. They then moved to Royal Air Force Wethersfield in Essex, England, on June 1, 1952, to act as a deterrent of Soviet Union aggression.

In 1958, the 20th FBW focused on Victor Alert in England, a Cold War mission to provide tactical nuclear weapons at a moment’s notice until it officially ended Nov. 1, 1986; today, F-16CM Fighting Falcons assigned to the wing retain nuclear capability, to be used if necessary.

In 1991, the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing once again became the 20th FW. A few years later on Jan. 1, 1994, the 20th FW moved from RAF Upper Heyford back home to Shaw. The 55th FS flew A-10 and OA-10 Thunderbolt IIs and the 77th, 78th and 79th FS flew F-16CJ Fighting Falcons.

In 1996, the 55th received F-16CJs after losing the Thunderbolt IIs. The 78th FS was inactivated in 2003 and then redesignated as the 78th Reconnaissance Squadron in 2006 at Nellis AFB, Nevada.

From Mustangs to Falcons, training pilots to providing SEAD, a lot has changed over the years. As flight technology and war evolves, 20th FW Airmen have advanced in step.

“With Airmen being held more accountable and responsible, they seem to be more mature coming in (to the service) and taking ownership of what’s been placed in their hands,” said John Kennedy, 20th Force Support Squadron school liaison officer, who first arrived at Shaw in December 1993. “It seems Airmen are coming out now and when they’re told ‘I need you to do this,’ they’re stepping up to the plate and not taking the responsibility lightly.”

The 20th Operations Group currently employs 79 F-16CM Fighting Falcons in conventional and anti-radiation SEAD, strategic attack, counter air, air interdiction joint maritime operations and combat search-and-rescue missions.

“The 20th FW history is basically all the decades of (us) learning,” said Koonce. “We learn from our mistakes, that’s how we evolve so we can make good, sound decisions in the future.”