Streamers Tell of Proud History at Selfridge

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
Long before the first Warthog ever got airborne, the pilots of the 107th went hunting for submarines - and they have the campaign streamer to prove it.

Then designated the 107th Observation Squadron, the 107th had been sent for training to Esler Field at Camp Beauregard in Louisiana and was flying the OA-47, a small propeller-driven aircraft, that carried a pilot and two observation crewmembers. After the 1941 attack on the Pearl Harbor Navy base in Hawaii, the American command was concerned about possible submarine attacks along the U.S. coastlines. The 107th was sent east and spent the first several weeks of the war looking for enemy subs, before the job was eventually mostly handed over to the Navy and Coast Guard; then the 107th went to Europe, according to Doug Barbier, a former pilot with the 171st Airlift Group at Selfridge and researcher of Michigan Air National Guard history.

According to several histories, no confirmed enemy submarines were ever spotted by aircraft off the East Coast, although there were several confirmed attacks on the West Coast - which were promptly hushed-up by the military brass.

The now mostly-forgotten efforts of the 107th to protect the nation against submarines is not only a part of the colorful past of the Michigan Air National Guard, it is part of the colorful collection of campaign streamers and other decorations that are attached to the unit guidon for the 107th. (A "guidon" is a smaller flag used by a squadron. It is in a "swallowtail" design, which means it appears to have a triangle taken from end away from the end attached to the pole. A "flag" is reserved for wing level units and above.)

All American military units use such streamers to record the collective history of the unit and its predecessor organizations. Thus the blue, red, white and black World War II American Theater - AntiSubmarine 1941-45 campaign streamer that flies on the 107th guidon.

Unit flags or guidons typically reside in a commander's office, but they play starring roles in many official military ceremonies, such as parades and changes of command. The 127th Wing commander, Col. Michael T. Thomas, recently stood before the assembled Airman of the wing, holding aloft the flag, for all to see. The multi-color campaign streamers contrasted with the sky blue of the wing flag as he formally became the wing commander in the June 4 ceremony.

Campaign streamers are awarded for participation in a completed campaign that is formally recognized by the Secretary of Defense. As a whole, the wing has nine streamers from World War II and Air Force Outstanding Unit awards in 2000-2001 and again in 1983-84. The wing was also awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for its World War II service. Although various wing units were mobilized during the Korean War, and various individual Airmen from the Wing served in Korea, they did not deploy as a unit to Korea.

The streamers on the wing flag do not necessarily match up with those on the flags of the wing's subordinate groups and squadrons.

"It is possible for each unit to have different streamers, especially the flying squadron vice the wing," said David P. Anderson, a retired chief master sergeant and now the senior historian at the Air National Guard history office. "(In the case of the 127th,) both the Wing and the 107 FS have WWII honors. The difference is that the 107 FS earned them on their own while the 127 WG had its honors bestowed upon them from the 361 Fighter Group (a World War II-era command that the forerunner of the 171st Air Refueling Squadron was a part of for a time). Typically if the wing earns an award like the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, then its subordinate units earn it, too.

"Each unit has their own history. Just because the 107th is a subordinate unit to the 127th does not entitle the 127th to carry the honors of the 107th. In this case, the 107th is much older than the 127th/361st," he said.

The 107th FS was created in 1917 and actually spent part of World War I assembling aircraft for military use. The 171st traces its origin back to the 374th Fighter Squadron, created in 1942 and equipped with P-47 Thunderbolt fighter aircraft. In 1946, the unit was redesignated as the 171st FS and moved into the Michigan National Guard (the Air National Guard was not created until a year later). The 127th Wing was created in 1996 by a consolidation of the 127th Fighter Wing and 191st Airlift Group. Today the 107th flies the A-10 Thunderbolt II, more popularly known as the Warthog. The 171st - which flew the original Thunderbolt during World War II - now flies the KC-135 Stratotanker.

The 127th Wing hasn't added a campaign streamer to its flag since World War II, which ended in 1945. It is likely however, that the Wing will eventually add one or more from the Global War on Terrorism at some point in the future, as the wing has deployed extensively in support of operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and domestically.

In summer 2009, the Dept. of Defense formally designated three Iraqi campaigns and two Afghanistan campaigns. The designated campaigns for Iraq are the "Liberation of Iraq" (March 19, 2003 - May 1, 2003), the "Transition of Iraq" (May 2, 2003 - June 28, 2004), and "Iraqi Governance" (June 29, 2004 - Dec. 15, 2005). The designated campaigns for Afghanistan are the "Liberation of Afghanistan" (Sept. 11, 2001 -Nov. 30, 2001) and "Consolidation I" (Dec. 1, 2001 - Sept. 30, 2006). Additionally, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs authorized the Air Force Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary streamer. This streamer is awarded to qualified units in recognition of service in the other GWOT-E geographic regions outside of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The U.S. Air Force as a whole was awarded all six of the most recent streamers. Streamers for individual units are still pending.

"The Air Force determines via G-series orders when and if units are awarded campaign, award, and service streamers," Anderson said. "For the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, 9th Air Force is still reviewing a list of units eligible for campaign streamers. Individuals can get medals but units have to wait."

Surprisingly, perhaps, given Selfridge's connection to the use of airpower in World War I, the wing does not hold any streamers for service in what was then known as The Great War.

"Neither 361 FG nor the 127 WG existed during World War I and the 107th did not serve in WWI," said Anderson, the ANG historian. "All of the WWI-related activity at Selfridge is reserved for the narrative history of the base. The base cannot get streamers."

Selfridge Field came into being as a military air field in 1917 and served as a training site for pilots and aerial gunners who eventually headed to service, primarily in France, in World War I. The base has been in use ever since, making it the oldest continuously used military air field in the country.

Campaign streamers first came into widespread use during the Civil War. According to an official history of the devices published by the U.S. Army, it was a two-star general in the Union Army who is credited with the creation of the first campaign streamer.

On 25 August 1861, Major Gen. John C. Fremont, commanding the Union Army's Western Department, commended troops from Iowa, Kansas and Missouri for their extraordinary service at the battle of Wilson's Creek, near Springfield, Missouri, 10 days earlier. Some 4,300 Union Soldiers had fought to a draw a Confederate force five times as large. The battle ended in a moral victory for the Union Army. Fremont ordered the word "Springfield" to be emblazoned on the colors of the units involved in the fighting. In a joint resolution on Christmas Eve 1861, Congress expressed its appreciation for the gallant and patriotic service of Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, who lost his life during the battle, and the officers and Soldiers under his command. To commemorate the battle, Congress confirmed Fremont's order for each regiment engaged to embroider the word "Springfield" on its colors. Two months later the War Department instructed all regiments and batteries to inscribe on their colors or guidons the names of battles in which they had performed meritoriously.

A new military tradition was born.

127th Wing campaign streamers
· AF Outstanding Unit Award 1Jan 2000- 31Dec 2001
· AF Outstanding Unit Award 1983-84
· WWII European -African-Middle Eastern Theater 5 Dec 1945
· WWII European -African-Middle Eastern Theater Central Europe 1945
· WWII European -African-Middle Eastern Theater Normandy 1944
· WWII European -African-Middle Eastern Theater Ardennes - Alsace 1944-1945
· WWII European -African-Middle Eastern Theater Rhineland 1944-45
· WWII European -African-Middle Eastern Theater Northern France 1944
· WWII European -African-Middle Eastern Theater Air Offensive, Europe 1942-44
· WWII European -African-Middle Eastern Theater LeHavre and Straits of Dover
· WWII American Theater - AntiSubmarine 1941-45
· Presidential Unit Citation, 5 Dec 1945

Resources on the history and use of campaign streamers:
· Official U.S. Army history of campaign streamers: Colors of Courage Since 1775, available at: http://www.ausa.org/publications/ilw/ilw_pubs/specialreports/Documents/CampaignStreamers.pdf
· AIR FORCE COMBAT MEDALS, STREAMERS, AND CAMPAIGNS by Timothy Warnock (Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1990), available at http://ebookee.org/Air-Force-Combat-Medals-Streamers-and-Campaigns-Reference-Series-_921029.html
· A Guide to United States Air Force Lineage and Honors, available at: http://www.afhra.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-090611-010.pdf