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North Carolina Air National Guard marks 68 year anniversary

Colonel Payne - Capt. McNeil   F-86E  09/21/57

Colonel Payne - Capt. McNeil F-86E 09/21/57

Sign outside gate at Morris Field, Charlotte N.C. (Photo by NCANG Heritage Program)

Sign outside gate at Morris Field, Charlotte N.C. (Photo by NCANG Heritage Program)

1948-1949 Time Frame; P-47D in Flight (Photo by NCANG Heritage Program)

1948-1949 Time Frame; P-47D in Flight (Photo by NCANG Heritage Program)

A C-130 Hercules aircraft (MAFFS 8) assigned to the 145th Airlift Wing, North Carolina Air National Guard, drops water in the Pisgah National Forest during Modular Airborne Firefighting System (MAFFS) training May 5, 2012. Annual training is conducted to maintain currency and upgrade qualifications for pilots, aircrew and ground crews in preparation for the fire season. Military C-130s equipped with MAFFS systems can drop up to 3,000 gallons of water on wildfires. ( Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Patricia F. Moran/Released)

A C-130 Hercules aircraft (MAFFS 8) assigned to the 145th Airlift Wing, North Carolina Air National Guard, drops water in the Pisgah National Forest during Modular Airborne Firefighting System (MAFFS) training May 5, 2012. Annual training is conducted to maintain currency and upgrade qualifications for pilots, aircrew and ground crews in preparation for the fire season. Military C-130s equipped with MAFFS systems can drop up to 3,000 gallons of water on wildfires. ( Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Patricia F. Moran/Released)

Nine C-130 Hercules aircraft assigned to the 145th Airlift Wing taxi out to runway in preparation for departure from the North Carolina Air National Guard Base, Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Feb. 7, 2016. Aircrew executed a tactical MAX flight launching all nine aircraft simultaneously. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Rich Kerner/Released)

Nine C-130 Hercules aircraft assigned to the 145th Airlift Wing taxi out to runway in preparation for departure from the North Carolina Air National Guard Base, Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Feb. 7, 2016. Aircrew executed a tactical MAX flight launching all nine aircraft simultaneously. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Rich Kerner/Released)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The North Carolina Air National Guard has come a long way since its establishment 68 years ago. Then, Lt. Col. William J. Payne, who ran a furniture store in downtown Charlotte, was asked to start the unit, which became the 156th Fighter Squadron, the oldest unit of the North Carolina Air National Guard. The unit, which was equipped with P-47D Thunderbolt aircraft, was federally recognized March 15, 1948 and activated at Morris Field. Its mission was the air defense of the state.

Retired Chief Master Sgt. Terry Henderson recalls a conversation he once had with Brig. Gen. Payne while driving him to Raleigh, N.C.

"I was driving the general up to Raleigh when he started reminiscing about how the unit got its start. He said that back in 1948, he received a call saying that the Air Force had a group of
P-47Ds in route to the base here in Charlotte. The general (then a lieutenant colonel) said he told them to turn them around; he didn't have a jack or wrench to change a tire or the basic equipment to maintain the aircraft. They told him it was too late, the aircraft were in the air and would be there soon, and to just figure it out," Henderson recalled. 

Lt. Col. Payne went over to Piedmont Airlines and worked out an arrangement to use some of their tools and equipment at night when their mechanics weren't using them. Thus began an outstanding 68 year working relationship with Piedmont Airlines, now American Airlines, and the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. 

For the next several years the facilities at Morris Field expanded and subordinate units formed adding to the ever changing flying mission. Those units would eventually include 145th Aeromedical Transport Group (ATG), which flew evacuation missions. From 1966 to 1971 the 145th ATG found themselves deployed to Vietnam, flying over 20 million km without an aircraft accident.

Today, over 1500 Airmen support the NCANG's mission by providing tactical airlift to the United States Military and delivering supplies anywhere in the world as needed.

"In the 46 years I've been with the unit, I've seen three mission aircraft changes, very soon to be four. I've also witness the first enlisted females to join the unit and watched as they retired at the end of their careers with 20 plus years of outstanding service," said Henderson.

These Airmen proudly serve their communities, providing protection of life and property, preserving peace, order and public safety for their neighbors, while continuing to support the Wing's mission when called upon. They provide relief when disasters happen, responding to earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and forest fires, search and rescue and protection of vital public services. Adding to that, the NCANG has over 15 years of deployments supporting the Global War on Terrorism.

Retired Chief Master Sgt. Bill Fish, age 95, joined the unit in 1948 and served as the unit's first Senior Enlisted Advisor. He still volunteers with the unit helping with the wing's history program, identifying people in old photos and sharing stories about the unit from the perspective of someone who's been there and lived it. He exemplifies the courage and commitment of the Citizen Soldier/Airman.

"Looking back and thinking about not only Brig. Gen. Payne and the other pioneers who started this unit, but all the members who have come and gone, serving with distinction, I know he would be proud of our unit, its legacy and history," Henderson proudly stated.