The Screaming Eagles of the 96th Air Refueling Squadron have been silenced, and their wings clipped.
The Air Force inactivated the 96th Monday after nearly 11 years at Fairchild, as it consolidates its units for more efficiency.
In a ceremony attended by more than 100 air and ground crew members, past commanders and their families, the squadron’s guidon – a square blue flag with gold letters and numbers for the unit’s designations – was rolled up, sheathed and relinquished by its commander, Lt. Col. Fritz Koennecke.
In recent years, members of the squadron and their KC-135 tankers have flown missions over Iraq and Afghanistan, and sent crews to bases in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kyrgyzstan. Based temporarily on Guam last December, members of the 96th brought the first relief crews into Thailand after the Indian Ocean tsunami.
But the latest Air Force restructuring is calling for fewer squadrons with more members. So Fairchild, which started the year with four squadrons of between 70 and 80 people, will soon have two squadrons with about 140 people. The 97th Squadron was inactivated previously, leaving only the 92nd and 93rd squadrons.
The air and ground crews will do the same things, but the restructuring will save on the number of administrators, record keepers and commanders, Koennecke said.
The general public probably won’t notice any difference, he said.
Squadron member’s shoulder patches, which feature an eagle in flight with arrows in one claw and an olive branch in the other and the word “ubique,” Latin for everywhere, will be replaced with other unit patches. The awards, decorations and historic mementos will be boxed up and shipped back to the Pentagon. The box will probably be stored somewhere like the warehouse in the final scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Koennecke joked, to be dusted off and sent out to another base if the Air Force needs to form a new unit.
That’s happened several times before to the 96th. It started out as a bomb squadron in 1941, was inactivated in 1945, only to be reactivated as a tanker squadron in 1953 in Oklahoma that served until 1965, when it was again inactivated. It was reactivated in 1994 at Fairchild, when the West Plains base was ramping up to become the nation’s largest tanker base. If it gets a new lease on life at some future date, the squadron might have a different mission.