The Oregon Air National Guard’s First Outstanding Unit Award

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Terrence G. Popravak, Jr., USAF (Retired)
  • 142nd Wing / Historian's Office

The Air Force Outstanding Unit Award (AFOUA), renamed in 2020 as the Air and Space Outstanding Unit Award (ASOUA), is the Air Force’s highest peacetime unit award.  It was established in the aftermath of the Korean War and was the first independent Air Force decoration created.  

Per Department of the Air Force Manual 36-2806, Military Awards:  Criteria and Procedures (27 October 2022), “The award was established by the Secretary of the Air Force on 6 January 1954, to recognize numbered units that have distinguished themselves by exceptionally meritorious service or outstanding achievement that clearly sets the unit above and apart from similar units. The award may also be awarded for achievements of national or international significance, combat operations against an armed enemy of the United States, or military operations involving conflict with or exposure to hostile actions by an opposing foreign force.”

Sixty years ago this month, the 123rd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, today’s 123rd Fighter Squadron, was the first Oregon Air National Guard (ANG) unit to receive the AFOUA, bestowed in December, 1962 for achievements between June 8, 1960 and April 30, 1962. 

Not only that, but the award was reportedly the first time an ANG unit not on active duty had received the AFOUA.  But as the 123rd FIS Redhawks stood air defense alert around-the-clock in the award period like similar active duty units performing that mission, they qualified for the award. 

Unit accomplishments in this period included conversion to the ultimate version of the Scorpion fighter-interceptor, the F-89J, integration into the new Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) command and control system and Direction Center 13 (DC-13) at Adair Air Force Station, Oregon which commenced from June 1, 1960 when DC-13 became operational, as well as post-conversion resumption of participation in the ANG Air Defense Alert Program in January, 1961.  This air defense alert alongside the active duty unit then at Portland Air Force Base is described in “Sixty years of Redhawk Alert,” here.  

The award period also included participation in the large-scale, multi-national, NORAD-wide air defense exercise Operation Sky Shield II in October, 1961.  See “Remembering Operation Sky Shield II, October 14-15, 1961,” here.

In another related believed-to-be first, the Portland Air Defense Sector (POADS) headquarters at Adair Air Force Station, Oregon and its nine assigned fighter-interceptor and radar squadrons in Western Oregon and Northern California, which included the 123rd FIS, were all awarded the AFOUA for this period by the USAF’s Air Defense Command.  The usual USAF policy at the time limited this award to wings or smaller units.

The award citation to POADS and subordinate operational squadrons recognized the command’s exceptionally meritorious service and “highly professional, skilled, and cohesive team of units dedicated to producing only the best.”  It also cited POADS with creating a public image which “inspires calm confidence in the ability of air defense forces to protect the nation.”

The AFOUA award was approved on October 12, 1962 and presented to then-123rd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron Commander Lt Col Robert L. Stacklie by POADS Commander Col Leon W. Gray during the squadron’s December, 1962 unit training assembly.  The formal presentation took place in the 142nd Fighter Group’s G. Robert Dodson memorial aircraft maintenance hangar, a structure still in use today. 

Since 1962, the 142nd Wing and subordinate units have received the OUA 11 more times.  With abundant opportunity to conduct its mission in an outstanding manner, it is likely that our “Hometown Air Force,” the 142nd Wing, will at some point again be awarded an OUA for achievement in service to community, state and nation.