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Fairchild units include air wings and the survival school

Joseph Cain, left, and Lance Paquette of the Fairchild Air Force Base Survival School teach fire-building basics during a survival training course for the Priest Lake Search and Rescue volunteers at Priest Lake on Jan. 24, 2015. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)
Joseph Cain, left, and Lance Paquette of the Fairchild Air Force Base Survival School teach fire-building basics during a survival training course for the Priest Lake Search and Rescue volunteers at Priest Lake on Jan. 24, 2015. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)

The number 92 has been big at Fairchild Air Force Base since 1947.

That was the year the 92nd Bombardment Wing, Very Heavy, was assigned to what was then the Spokane Army Air Field. The wing, which is a major unit in Air Force terminology, flew B-29s, the biggest bomber at that time.

A year later, the Strategic Air Command was getting a new, even bigger bomber, the B-36, so SAC renamed Fairchild’s unit the 92nd Bombardment Wing, Medium, because it was still flying B-29s. A few years later it went back to being the 92nd Heavy because it got B-36s, and later B-52s. When tankers and Atlas missiles were assigned to the base, it was the 92nd Aerospace Wing. After the missiles were deactivated, it went back to being the 92nd Bomb Wing. When the B-52s left in 1994, it became the 92nd Air Refueling Wing.

Within the wing, there are separate groups for operations, maintenance and mission support, as well as the medical group, which operates an urgent care and emergency room, plus outpatient medical, dental and aerospace medicine. They all have the 92nd as part of their title.

As the largest unit at Fairchild, the 92nd is the host unit. But there are others that make their home at the West Plains base.

  • The Washington Air National Guard’s 141st Air Refueling Wing has shared space at Fairchild since 1976, when it switched from flying fighters to flying tankers, and moved from its former home at Geiger Air Field. The 141st originally had its own KC-135s, and for a period even flew a different model, the KC-135E. But the active duty and Guard wings now share planes and some joint operations.
  • The 336th Training Group operates the Air Force Survival School, which trains about 6,000 students a year in SERE – Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. It also trains SERE instructors and has the 36th Rescue Squadron, which flies UH-1n helicopters, aids in the school’s jump training and helps local law enforcement on search and rescue operations.
  • The 509th Weapons Squadron is also a tenant at Fairchild. Although the KC-135 tankers are not equipped with weapons, the squadron does teach crews the tactics of using, planning and executing “integrated air power,” of which the tankers are very much a part.

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