The 190th

This was the result of an operation in which the 117th did not play a part, but which underlined the role of the Air National Guard in the National Defense, and led to changes within the 117th. In the fall of 1961, with increasing tension over West Berlin , "Operation Stairstep" was put into effect, and one third of the Air National Guard was mobilized and transported to Europe . It was a fine display of the potential use of the Air National Guard to respond quickly in a crisis, as well as a badly-needed reinforcement for NATO. The 117th was not directly involved in "Stairstep," since it was better suited by equipment and training to assess battle damage in the United States . The operation showed, though, that the current organization of the Air Guard was poorly suited for a limited emergency.

In the post-war years, the Guard had been organized into wings, each wing being a self-sustaining organization, divided up by function into groups for administration, supply, maintenance and operations. Since it was not practical to place entire Air National Guard Wings on a single airfield in peacetime, for day-to-day operations (and weekend drills) - they were divided into "augmented squadrons," each containing all the necessary support elements for the one squadron of aircraft that formed the heart of each augmented squadron. The problem came on mobilization. By law, while a reservist may be summoned individually, members of the National Guard may only be mobilized as a part of their unit (though they may be transferred out afterward). This meant that if one had to have part of an augmented squadron for whatever purpose, one had to call up the whole unit. The classic case was the Arizona Air National Guard. The Air Force needed only their planes, their pilots and a bare minimum of mechanics, since they would be deployed to an existing base in Spain which already had enough support personnel. Instead, the whole squadron was called up, the elements the Air Force really wanted sent to Spain , and the rest more or less dumped at Luke AFB to get them out of the way. Clearly some better systems were necessary.

The solution was to restructure the Air Guard into Wings composed of self-sustaining Groups, and to use the same structure in war or peace. This meant that each augmented squadron became a group (with a new number) consisting of the old flying squadron (old number) and several support elements - combat support, material, dispensary, and HQ, each with the same number as the newly-formed group. The groups tended to be slightly larger than the old augmented squadrons, but in event of war, they could be called by squadrons, and the flying squadron included enough maintenance personnel that if one was sending the unit to an already-functioning base, one would need to call up only the single squadron of a four-squadron group.

Thus in our own case, the 117th Tac Recon Squadron remained, but as only one of a number of Squadrons making up the 190th Tac Recon Group. The conversion took place on 14 Oct 1962 . The new Squadrons were the 190th Combat Support Squadron, the 190th Material Squadron, the 190th USAF Dispensary, and the HQ, 190th Tactical Reconnaissance Group. This required an increase in authorized airmen from 501 (with real strength 460 to 568, and in officers from 64 to 101. There would be 117 technicians. Major Elvin C. Gerard became maintenance officer for the Combat Support Squadron, Captain Harold Wanamaker took command of the 190th MATron, Major William Fry commanded the 117th, and Lieutenant Phil Hofer the Dispensary. LtCol. Boggs remained commander of the new group.

With the conversion from the 117th Tac Recon Squadron to the 190th Tac Recon Group, Sgt. Zerger, who had drawn up the old insignia, felt that a new one was necessary. This time, it ought to be something all the 190th's own, and reflecting the mission and the state. There were, of course, difficulties. The 190th ought by rights to have the motto "Semper Canberras," but the aircraft could not be part of the insignia by the Air Force Regulations. Similarly, the state could not be mentioned explicitly, though a state symbol might be used. By the same set of regulations, the predominant colors had to be blue and yellow.

Within these restrictions, Sgt. Zerger set work, with his own ideas and those of other members of the 190th. There ought to be something to represent Kansas , they felt, and various symbols were considered. Wheatstalks, Sun Flowers, and Tornados seemed the best bets. There ought to be something for the fighting capacity of the unit too; a miniature TAC insignia? A minuteman, to represent both fighting capacity and our heritage as an Air Guard unit? Sgt. Zerger, inspired in part by a design on his own family crest, favored a helmet. After a few preliminary sketches, it was clear that it would have to be a closed helmet if there was not to be the further complication of drawing the man within. Literally dozens of sketches were drawn at this stage, as the interested parties tried to combine those elements, and to choose between them. Among the final contenders, a shield divided into three parts, with a minuteman, a sunflower, and a TAC winged sword: a helmet with at plum running down the back, with a wheatstalk overhead, a similar helmet on a shield quartered blue and yellow, and a similar background with a helmet with wings. It wasn't until late 1970 or early 1971 that a pattern was at last finalized; a winged helmet (gold) superimposed on a dark blue tornado, passing through a light blue sky. Then a description had to be drawn up, with explanations of the symbolism in both the objects shown and the color chosen. (The most awkward part of this was explaining the red outline of the tornado. It was done to liven up a flat background, but that's not the sort of explanation the Air Force wants). What with all that, the design wasn't submitted to the Air Force for final approval until about April of 1971, and the wheels of officialdom grinding rather slowly - not approved until about six or eight months later. In fact, while the preliminary sketches were all marked "190 TAC RECON GP," the first approved insignia were marked "190 BOMB GP TAC."

On Tuesday, 20 Aug. 1963 , the 190th was nearing the end of an uneventful Summer Field Training at Hutchinson Air National Guard Base. Captains Charles W. Simmonds and Clenn J Biberstein were approaching Hutchinson at the end of a training mission. Capt. Biberstein was a fairly recent member, but Capt. Simmonds had joined the Air Force in 1955, and had 1,100 hours of flying time. He had joined the 190th in February of 1963.

Fifteen miles southwest of Hutchinson , the canopy blew off. It was meant to do so prior to ejection, but no explanation has been given as to why it did so then. In any event, it was disastrous. 300-mile-an-hour winds entered the cockpit, sweeping away Capt Simmonds' helmet and injuring his face. Capt. Biberstein, behind and below, was somewhat less exposed. He fought his was forward, and seeing the situation, gave his helmet to Simmonds. Voice communication was impossible in the cockpit, so Simmonds wrote on his kneepad, "No elevator control - Get out." As Biberstein explained it later, Simmonds was the boss, and in any event there was nothing else he could do. He returned to his seat and ejected.

Despite the helmet Simmonds had been given, he made no communication with Hutchinson . Perhaps there was no time, or perhaps the radio - like the elevator controls, had not survived the hurricane winds. At 3:22 p.m. he crashed into a field southwest of town, still at the controls of his crippled aircraft, and presumably still trying to bring it home intact. The plane buried itself in a trench 40 feet long and 8 feet deep, and Capt. Charles W. Simmonds, at the age of 30 become the first member of the 190th to perish in the performance of his duties. An accident investigation team was formed under the command of Colonel Francis Vetort, Air Force advisor to the 107th TFW in Niagra Falls , but as is standard Air Force policy, knowledge of their findings is distributed only of a "need to know" basis.