Annual Training at Gowen Field, 1954: Part 2 - The Ground Echelon

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Terrence G. Popravak, Jr, USAF (Retired)
  • 142nd Fighter Wing History Office
The Oregon Air National Guard's (OreANG) 1954 annual training, held from 13 to 27 June at Gowen Field, Idaho, was an important event for the National Guard as well as for the OreANG.

Gowen Field was one of seven National Guard field training sites across the country, the first established and the largest of them, beginning this use in March of 1952 as the Korean War raged. It played an important part in National Guard readiness for western states including Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Montana, Nevada and California.

In addition to the whole 142nd Fighter-Interceptor Wing, including the OreANG's 142nd Fighter-Interceptor Group as well as ANG units from Idaho, Washington and Montana, the Gowen Field summer training in 1954 included hundreds more personnel from ANG Aviation Engineer units and Nevada Army Guardsmen. A grand total of about 2,600 Guardsmen from five western states participated in this two-week training event.

With the 15 aircraft the OreANG brought to Gowen, including 10 F-86A, two T-33A, one VC-47A and two T-6G, there was plenty of work to be done to keep them flying, both on and off the flightline. While the air echelon was put through its summer training paces in the skies over Idaho, members of the ground echelon did their part to make airpower happen.

Chief Master Sgt. Gene Thomas, OreANG (Retired) was in charge of the 142FIG's aircraft instrument shop. He recalls his section's setup at Gowen: "We had a space on the ramp for our aircraft, and a flightline office. We worked only on our aircraft. They did give us an instrument shop with some test equipment, but we brought our own equipment, which was the same with other sections like Comm, Hydraulics, Electrical, Munitions, etc."

The HQ of the 142nd Maintenance and Supply Group provided coordination and supervision of the 142nd Maintenance Squadron, 142nd Motor Vehicle Squadron and 142nd Supply Squadron.

Commanded by Maj. Robert D. Richards, the Maintenance Squadron was made up of Airmen from across the wing. It took care of the tactical, base flight and transient aircraft. In addition to aircraft repair, it maintained and repairs such items as typewriters, watches, radar gunsights, machine guns, parachutes and aircraft instruments.

The Motor Vehicle Squadron maintained and operated the wing motor pool, provided driver training and maintained all ground powered and vehicular equipment. It also handled the refueling of aircraft. With a fleet or around 100 vehicles, the squadron reported a daily average of 120 individually dispatched vehicles during the encampment.

Supply was busy with engaging the Gowen Field cadre which owned 95,000 items of equipment with 6,000 line items. These ranged from Caterpillar tractors worth $25,000 each to knives and forks and spoons. Somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 pieces of equipment went over the issue counter during the encampment.

The 142nd Air Base Group directed and supervised its assigned activities and squadrons, which included the 142nd Air Installations Squadron, 142nd Air Police Squadron, 142nd Food Service Squadron and 142nd Communications Squadron.

The Air Police, under the command of 1st Lt. Ray S. Earl of Portland, came from ANG units across the 142FIW. It enforced the general security of Gowen during the encampment. Flight line patrol was a primary duty, but the squadron also handled traffic control, base patrol, town patrol and general police work.

During the two weeks of training, the Food Service Squadron served approximately 50,000 meals. The kitchen opened at 0430 and the last meal of the day was served by 1830, when the doors closed and preparations for the next day began, as the kitchen ran 24-hours a day to support the mission.

For the training at Gowen, a complete communications system had to be installed from scratch. The 142nd Communications Squadron faced a challenge, having to install some 50 miles of wire and a 135 telephone network. Fortunately, they had the help of the 215th Communications Construction Squadron of the Washington ANG, which performed all the "outside" work, including raising telephone poles and stringing wire and cable. Once all the connections were made, the 142nd Comm team took care of the "inside" work, and ran the teletypes, switchboards, radio operations, and maintenance, telephone installation and repair and the cryptographic department.

Col. Ralph M. Prag, physician and surgeon, commanded the 142nd Tactical Hospital, which included a dental section. The mission of the tactical hospital was to maintain medical service, supply, and care of patients both on hospital and dispensary lines, and aeromedical care for sick and wounded.

Three female AF Reserve nurses joined the training and were well employed. Capt. Mildred E. Jones, a flight nurse with 1,000 hours on the Japan-Philippines-Hawaii run, Capt. Vera B. Lee who served in New Guinea and the Philippines, were joined by 1st Lt. Elva Johnson. In a way, they pioneered a role for women to serve in the reserve component - the OreANG's first female member, 1st Lt. Faith Hunsdon, joined the 142FIG in March, 1958.

As for dealing with a health issue of sorts, the Idaho heat, Chief Thomas said "We had a kind of air conditioning in some of the spaces, water cooled fans, in office areas and barracks, but not in the aircraft maintenance hangar." There was also a pool at the base which offered some refreshing relief from the heat.

In addition to above described major units of the 142FIW, there were several other units which reported to the HQ 142FIW during this training. These included the 560th Air Force Band, the 116th Forecasting Flight, the 882nd Engineer Aviation Battalion, and the above mentioned 215th Comm squadron.

The 882d was composed of three companies and a HQ and Service company from Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Company C came from Portland, commanded by Capt. Louis C. Gilham. The Aviation Engineers made it known that they were not a labor battalion, as their primary mission was to construct airfields in forward areas, to maintain the facilities and access to them, and to be prepared to defend the perimeter as required. They worked to complete an emergency landing field near Cinder Butte on the artillery range, and some 27 miles of access road to it. The also worked to construct a new concrete unloading ramp at the railhead in the Gowen warehouse area.

There was one other major National Guard formation in training at Gowen when the 142FIW held its summer encampment. It was the Nevada Army National Guard's 121st Anti-Aircraft Artillery Group. The unit and its subordinate 421st and 422nd battalions, numbering approximately 600 men, deployed to the firing range about 25 miles south of Gowen Field. They brought 40mm cannon and twin .50 caliber machine guns for live-fire training against radio-controlled aerial target aircraft with 14-foot wingspans and four cylinder engines.

At least 20 Regular Air Force officer and enlisted trainers assigned to the 142FIW and subordinate units participated in the 1954 encampment. The instructors came under the direction of Col John Nedwed, the senior AF instructor of the 142FIW. They assisted Air Guardsmen in various functional areas but did not assume command, and typically had a close association with the air technical detachment in a given ANG unit, the full time men who maintained the unit day-to-day. The instructor's responsibility was important as the part-time 142FIW was expected to provide a Mobilization Day (M-Day) force with the efficiency of a regular AF establishment.

Training was organized and conducted for all assigned in the wing. For the new members of the ANG, 420 Airmen without any previous active service, with an average age between 17 and 19, they underwent the Basic School at Gowen. The school was composed of two classes, which lasted one week each, and ran from 0800 to 1700. The most qualified instructors available in the wing were selected to provide the training, and they were administered by HQ 142FIW staff officer Major W. E. Difford.

Subjects of instruction at the Basic School included the mission of the ANG, military courtesy, military justice, leadership, career opportunities, security and intelligence, psychological warfare, aircraft recognition, ground safety, radiological warfare, medical training, survival in tropics, desert and arctic, sanitation and hygiene, basic weapons and various lectures on current events affecting the world situation.

The annual training of 1954 yielded great value for the Air Guardsmen of the Pacific Northwest. The fliers went through their paces to ensure the unit's mission capability was properly exercised. The ground echelon ensured the air echelon had everything it needed to do so. Existing members assembled to form a full unit and successfully exercised its many responsibilities. New members received indoctrination into the ANG as a new generation of Air Guardsmen prepared to provide sustained mission capability.

The facilities at Gowen Field used in the 1954 annual training afforded the OreANG the opportunity to accomplish all these things in order to ensure the organization was ready to rapidly answer the M-Day call to duty, whenever it might come. And today, though Gowen is not used for such OreANG training, the men and women of the 142nd Fighter Wing are well-trained and on constant guard of the skies over the Pacific Northwest, ever-ready to answer the call to duty.