The squadron insignia, the ace of spades with a dagger driven through the center of the card scripted "Caveat hostis," Latin for "Let the enemy beware," was approved on 18 July 1931 by the War Department and is still in use today. One of the original sheet metal hand painted insignia from the fuselage of a Consolidated O-17 Courier can still be seen today in the squadron commander’s office. Current Air Force heraldry regulations require squadron emblems include circular background; however, the 116th's patch as worn today by its members is the ace and dagger with no circle.
The 116th Air Refueling Squadron traces its origins to 29 August 1917 with the organization of the 116th Aero Squadron at Kelly Field, Texas. The squadron consisted of 80 men reporting from Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, Missouri and 40 men from Vancouver Barracks, Washington. An additional 14 men reported from Jefferson Barracks and other men were transferred into the squadron at Kelly Field, bringing the total to 150. Initially, the squadron was trained in basic indoctrination into the Army, with drill, fatigue duty, classroom training, and other things that are done in military training camps. During its time at Kelly Field, men were transferred in and out of the squadron, depending on their qualifications and the needs of other units in training. Once basic indoctrination training was completed, the 116th was ordered for overseas duty, being ordered to report to the Aviation Concentration Center, Garden City, Long Island on 26 October. It was there that final arrangements were made for the trip overseas, complete equipment was drawn and a final few transfers were made. On 7 December, the squadron was ordered to move by train to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where it boarded the RMS Tunician, and began its trans-Atlantic crossing. It arrived in Liverpool, England on 26 December and was moved immediately by train to Southampton. It remained at Southampton until the 29th when the squadron crossed the English Channel, arriving on 29 December at Le Havre, France.
In France, the squadron was ordered to the Replacement Concentration Center, AEF, St. Maixent Replacement Barracks, France, arriving on 2 January 1918 for further assignment. On 17 January 1918, the squadron was again moved, this time to Romorantin Aerodrome, in central France. There, along with the 75th Aero Construction Squadron and the 109th Aero Squadron, it was part of the first regular detachments of Americans to be stationed at the airfield. It was quartered in French barracks at the Camp de Bluets, on the outskirts of the town of Romorantin. Members of the squadrons were at once put into construction work to develop the Air Service Production Center No. 2. Work was performed in erecting buildings and also the construction of a railroad line into the camp next to the airfield. After several weeks of basic construction at the camp, much of the work was transferred to Chinese laborers who began to arrive and the Americans wee placed in charge of details of these workers. On 1 February, the designation of the squadron was changed from the 116th to the 637th Aero Squadron.
On 4 February, the 637th was again ordered to move, being transferred to Colombey-les-Belles Airdrome. It arrived on 6 February, being the 4th Aero Squadron to arrive at the "Zone of Advance" (Western Front). At Colombey the squadron was assigned to construction of the 1st Air Depot. Work consisted of the construction of barracks, bomb shelters, ditching and draining the land so streets and utility lines could be laid. Also, the construction of a large flying field was begun. Once the basic construction was completed, the majority of ongoing construction was again performed by Chinese laborers brought in to complete the work. The 637th was assigned to the 1st Air Depot as a Supply Squadron. The men were assigned to warehouse duties, storing new equipment and all manner of supplies that arrived at the Center, and issuing and delivering the necessities of operating the Center to the various units and divisions of the station. The squadron was tasked in maintaining accurate inventory records and advising the Commander of shortages and ordering additional or new equipment from Depots in France. The 637th was also responsible for the operation of the various mess halls, with squadron members acting as cooks, bakers and performing dish washing duties.
After the signing of the Armistice with Germany on 11 November, some men of the squadron were assigned to transportation and convoy duty, driving trucks performing collection of equipment from front-line units and also moving personnel back from the lines. The 637th Aero Squadron returned to the United States in late May 1919. It arrived at Mitchel Field, New York, where the squadron members were demobilized and returned to civilian life.
In 1924, the Adjutant General for the Washington National Guard, who was traveling through Spokane, made a simple proposal to the city fathers. Whichever city, Spokane, Seattle or Tacoma, could raise $10,000 dollars first for building hangars would get an Observation Squadron. As the General's westward train pulled out of the station and was approaching the city limits, a telegraph wire sent out ahead of the train stated, "The $10,000 has been raised. We want the squadron."
On 6 August 1924 the 116th Observation Squadron, Washington National Guard, received federal recognition. They established their unit headquarters at the former Parkwater Municipal Golf Course (now Felts Field) near Spokane. Major John T. "Jack" Fancher, a World War I veteran, would act as the units' first commander.
By early 1925, construction of the new hangars began with federally funded building materials, locally bought concrete and the squadron members themselves donating most of the labor. The 116th soon received its first airplanes, three Curtiss JN-6-A2 "Jenny" aircraft, a derivative of the Curtiss JN-4. They arrived at the rail yards still in the crates; however, no funds were provided to transport or construct the planes for use. A few creative enlisted men managed to haul, assemble and fire up these planes with oil donated by local businesses and gasoline bought on Fancher's personal credit.
On 8 August 1926, the unit was redesignated as the 116th Observation Squadron, 41st Division Aviation, and expanded to include a photo section, medical detachment and transportation section. The 116th was the first National Guard unit to achieve full flight qualifications for every officer in the unit.
During the summer of 1927, Fancher, a local pioneer for both the development of the 116th and the growth of aviation, flew to New York to persuade officials for the National Air Races to sponsor that year's race out of Spokane. He was successful and on his return flight, he continued to rally support for aviation in the Inland Empire by stopping off at the summer home of then President Calvin Coolidge. As a result of the air races, the northern route from Minneapolis to Spokane was established and later became the route used by Northwest Airlines.
In April 1928, Fancher was attempting to dispose of unexpended pyrotechnics left from an aerial demonstration at the Apple Blossom Festival in Wenatchee. The ordnance detonated while Fancher was carrying it, resulting in his death a few hours later. Flight instructor Caleb V. Haynes succeeded him in command of the 116th.
In the late 1930s, the unit, tasked by the federal government to perform an aerial survey of the Columbia River, provided invaluable information to geologists and engineers for the site selection and construction of Grand Coulee Dam, the largest dam in the world at the time.
In response to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Executive Order 8530, the 116th went into federal active duty effective 16 September 1940. The unit's first prominent World War II duties occurred immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese when the unit was assigned to Gray Army Airfield at Fort Lewis, Washington, flying anti-submarine patrols along the Pacific Coast. The squadron swelled in numbers as new draftees were added to the roster and it underwent a number of moves to various airfields. Finally, after being assigned to Will Rogers Field, Oklahoma it would be inactivated in 1943. The experienced pilots and crews were split up to provide training and leadership to newer draftee units. The experiences and assignments of the unit members during the war were as varied as the men themselves which can be attested to in a few of these brief accounts:
-- The unit commander both before and after the inactivation, Hillford Wallace, would head up various Army Air Corp Reconnaissance Groups in the South Pacific.
-- Frank Frost, a future commander of the unit, was assigned to a bomber squadron in Central America to protect the strategically important Panama Canal.
-- Einar Malmstrom, a founding member of the squadron and the namesake for Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana, was commander of the 356th Fighter Group in the European Theater. On his 58th combat mission, he was shot down over France and became a Prisoner of War (POW) in a German Prison Camp for a year.—Spokane, Washington native and 116th flyer, Sam Grashio, chronicled his World War II experience in his book, "Return to Freedom: The War Memoirs of Colonel Sam C. Grashio USAF." Grashio had fought against the Japanese forces right from the outset of the war in the Philippines. After depleting much of their food and virtually all their military resources, he and his other U.S. and Filipino comrades under direction of General Wainwright surrendered to the Japanese on 6 May 1942. He then went on to endure the Bataan Death March and the struggle for life at Camp O'Donnell. Grashio and several others were later assigned to a smaller work camp set so far into the jungle the Japanese did not think prison walls were necessary to keep the weakened and sickly POWs from trying to escape through an "impassable" jungle, but by will power and planning they did indeed escape and became the only group of Japanese prisoners to ever do so by their own means during the entire war. After being returned to stateside, the Colonel continued to serve his country by participating in War Bond tours, drumming up support for the war effort by recounting the harsh treatment he saw while a prisoner of the Japanese Army.
The wartime 116th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron was reconstituted on 21 June 1945. It was then re-designated as the 116th Fighter Squadron, and was allotted to the Washington Air National Guard, on 24 May 1946. It was organized at Felts Field, Spokane, Washington and was extended federal recognition on 1 July 1947 by the National Guard Bureau. The 116th Fighter Squadron was entitled to the history, honors, and colors of the 116th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron. The squadron was equipped with F-51D Mustangs and was allocated to Washington ANG 142d Air Defense Group, with a mission of the air defense of Eastern Washington.
The short runway and other issues with Felts Field led to the movement of the squadron to the larger Geiger Field on 1 July 1948. In March 1950 the squadron received five F-84C Thunderjets. The F-84s were received from the 33d Fighter Group at Otis AFB, Massachusetts.
As a result of the Korean War, the 116th Fighter Squadron was federalized and brought to active-duty on 1 February 1951. The squadron was assigned to the 81st Fighter-Interceptor Group and moved to Moses Lake AFB, Washington. The squadron was re-designated as the 116th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron. The 81st was assigned to Tactical Air Command (TAC) as a replacement squadron for the group's 93d Fighter-Interceptor Squadron which was at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico performing air defense duties at the Sandia National Laboratories. It was converted from the F-51s and F-80s to F-86A Sabre jet fighters and performed transition training at Moses Lake.
After only four months of training, the 81st FIG was ordered to RAF Shepherds Grove, England, to bolster NATO forces in Europe. The move was the first time in aviation history a National Guard fighter squadron would cross over to the European Theater under its own power and only the second time such a move was ever attempted without air refueling.
RAF Shepards Grove was a former World War II RAF Fighter Command base located in East Anglia. The bulk of the ground station buildings were the metal Nissen hut type, with some wood frame and tar paper buildings, and were grouped together in numbered "sites", widely separated to blend into natural, rustic surroundings for purposes of camouflage. The main administrative building and clubs were of the larger Quonset hut type.
Headquarters of the 81st FIG was located at RAF Bentwaters, and the 116th FIS joined with Royal Air Force Fighter Command to provide air defense of Great Britain. The 81st FIG was the first F-86 equipped unit in Europe. On 1 November 1952, the federalized 116th FIS was returned to the Washington National Guard and its personnel and equipment transferred to the newly activated USAF 78th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron.
Upon its return from England, the 116th FIS was organized and re-equipped with F-86A Sabre interceptors and again assigned to the 142d Air Defense Group. It resumed its peacetime mission of the air defense of eastern Washington. For the next 23 years the squadron performed that mission, being upgraded by ADC in 1955 to the dedicated F-94 Starfire all-weather interceptor. With this new aircraft, the mission of the 116th Fighter Interceptor Squadron changed from day interceptor to day and night all-weather interceptor. In 1957 the 116th again upgraded to the improved F-89D Scorpion, followed later by the nuclear armed F-89J, then in May 1965 to the supersonic F-102A Delta Dagger. In 1969 it received the Mach-2 F-101B Voodoo.
1967 was a "trophy" year for the 141st Fighter Group and the 116th. Trophies and awards received included the Spaatz Trophy for the most Outstanding Air National Guard Flying Unit, the Air National Guard Outstanding Unit Plaque, the Air Force Outstanding Unit Trophy and the Winston P. Wilson Award. In 1969, the unit accumulated an outstanding record, 37,900 accident-free flying hours, receiving the 25th Air Division Flying Safety Award five years in a row.
In July 1976, the 116th converted to the KC-135 Stratotanker, becoming the fifth Air National Guard unit to join the Strategic Air Command (SAC). The new air refueling squadron moved from Geiger Field to nearby Fairchild Air Force Base to accommodate the larger aircraft.
During the 1990 Gulf Crisis Aircrew, maintenance and support personnel responded to the Iraq invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990, and deployed to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Upon federal activation in December 1990, all eight of the unit’s KC-135's deployed to the Middle East. The 116th refueled coalition attack aircraft during Operation Desert Storm.
In December 1992, the unit responded with aircrew and support personnel for Operation Restore Hope, a United Nations relief mission to aid hunger victims in Somalia, flying missions from Moron AB, Spain. June 1995, several rotations deployed to Pisa, Italy, for Operation Deny Flight, NATO mission enforcing the no-fly zone over Bosnia-Herzegovina. In May 1999, six KC-135E's deployed to Budapest, Hungary in support of Operation Allied Force to deter ethnic aggressions in Yugoslavia.
On 13 January 1999, one of the unit's KC-135E's crashed at Geilenkirchen Air Base, Germany, killing all four crew members. This was the first time the unit lost an aircraft or lives since beginning the aerial refueling mission in 1976. A monument was erected at the site the following year.
After the 11 September 2001 attacks, the squadron began refueling flights supporting Operation Noble Eagle almost immediately. In 2002 a new digital navigation system, called Pacer CRAG, was added to the aircraft and crews trained to function without a navigator. Members of the 116th also joined the thousands of Guard and Reserve forces called up to deploy all over the world in support of America's "War on Terror."
When the first Guard KC-135 R-model landed on Fairchild AFB in January 2003, with its new engines, it became the 40th different airplane the 116th pilots had flown since it was created back in 1924. Each one of the four engines of the KC-135R produces over 21,000 pounds of thrust. The unit's first plane, the JN-6-A2 "Jenny," had a wooden body covered in fabric and only weighed 1,430 pounds.
At the time President George W. Bush ordered coalition military units into Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003, the 116th was in a training status to transition into the R model KC-135. Since then the 116th has supported continuous deployments including antiterrorism efforts abroad under Operation Enduring Freedom and air refueling missions over the US for homeland defense flights under Operation Noble Eagle.
During a banquet ceremony in July 2003, the 141st Air Refueling Wing accepted the coveted Solano Trophy marking the wing as the best Air National Guard unit in the 15th Air Force.
Overseas deployments and homeland security refueling missions have dominated the tasking landscape for the squadron since 2004. In response to the Congress-mandated 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process, the last of the KC-135 Stratotankers belonging to the 141st Air Refueling Wing were redirected to Iowa, and as of 1 October 2007 116th crew members now share aircraft with the active duty 92d Air Refueling Wing.
Today, 116th crews still deploy around the world to fulfill Air Expeditionary Force commitments much the same as during the First World War.Organized as 116th Aero Squadron** on 29 August 1917
Re-designated 116th Aero Squadron (Service)
on 1 September 1917
Re-designated 637th Aero Squadron (Supply)
on 1 February 1918
Demobilized on 20 May 1919
Reconstituted and consolidated (1936) with 116th Observation Squadron which, having been allotted to Washington NG, was activated on 6 August 1924
Ordered to active service on 16 September 1940
Re-designated: 116th Observation Squadron (Medium)
on 13 January 1942
Re-designated: 116th Observation Squadron
on 4 July 1942
Re-designated: 116th Reconnaissance Squadron (Fighter)
on 2 April 1943
Re-designated: 116th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron
on 11 August 1943
Disbanded on 30 November 1943
Reconstituted on 21 June 1945.
Redesignated 116th Fighter Squadron
, and allotted to Washington ANG, on 24 May 1946
Extended federal recognition on 1 July 1946
Federalized and placed on active duty, 10 February 1951
Re-designated: 116th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron
, 10 February 1951
Released from active duty and returned to Washington state control, 1 November 1952
Re-designated: 116th Fighter Squadron
, 7 July 1960
Re-designated: 116th Air Refueling Squadron
, 1 July 1976
** This unit is not related to another 116th Aero Squadron (Service) that was activated in March 1918 at Kelly Field, Texas.Post Headquarters, Kelly Field, 29 August-31 October 1917
Aviation Concentration Center, 31 October – 7 December 1917
Replacement Concentration Center, AEF, 2–18 January 1918
Air Service Production Center No. 2, AEF, 18 January-6 February 1918
1st Air Depot, AEF, 6 February 1918 – April 1919
Post Headquarters, Mitchel Field, 11–20 May 1919
Washington National Guard (divisional aviation, 41st Division), 6 August 1924
Ninth Corps Area, 16 September 1940
Fourth Army, 3 October 1940
IX Army Corps, c. November 1940
Fourth Air Force, 1 September 1941
IV Air Support Command, 3 September 1941
70th Observation (later Reconnaissance; Tactical Reconnaissance) Group, 13 September 1941 – 30 November 1943
60th Fighter Wing, 1 July 1946
142d Fighter Wing, 31 October 1950
81st Fighter-Interceptor Group, 10 February 1951
142d Fighter-Interceptor Wing, 1 November 1952
141st Fighter Group, 16 April 1956
141st Air Refueling Wing, 1 July 1976
141st Operations Group, 1 June 1992 – present