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News | Oct. 13, 2006

119th Happy Hooligans say goodbye to Langley

By Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher 1st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Detachment 1 of the 119th Fighter Wing said their final farewells Thursday, not only to Langley, but to the fighter and alert mission as well. 

The 119th is succeeded by the 158th Fighter Wing from the Vermont Air National Guard, which assumed the alert mission the same day. 

"The men and women of the 119th performed the alert mission continuously, reliably, faithfully and successfully," said Lt. Col. Marshall Kjelvik, 119th FW Det. 1 commander. 

The detachment has been charged with defending U.S. cities as part of Operation Noble Eagle as well as standing alert against airborne terror attacks like the ones on Sept. 11, 2001. 

"The mission prior to 911 was to maintain air sovereignty alert," said Colonel Kjelvik. "Post 911 it was to execute Operation Noble Eagle as well. Separate missions with the same players." 

Being on the front lines of the war on terror meant the 119th had to be ready to go, 24 hours a day. Having been an alert detachment since the 1950s, members of the 119th saw the alert mission decline and then come back with a vengeance in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. 

"We got to see a change from the pre-9/11 mindset to the post-9/11 mindset," Colonel Kjelvik said. "Part of reestablishing air defense programs was because of that." 

The air defense mission, the wing's domain since 1947, will no longer be the 119th's bread and butter. The move from Langley is part of a reorganization that will end the wing's history as a fighter unit and begin a new one as a Predator and cargo unit. 

"It'll be the first time in 60 years we're out of this mission and out of fighters," Colonel Kjelvik said. 

The change also presents challenges to the nearly three dozen members of the 119th; namely, what do they do now? 

For Senior Master Sgt. Robert Schacht, Det 1's chief enlisted manager, the answer is to stick around as the 158th's first sergeant and liaison between the Vermont ANG and the Happy Hooligans who elect to stay behind. 

"These have been the most quality years I have spent in my career," Sergeant Schacht said. "I feel I've done more things in the Guard than I ever thought possible." 

Others, like Master Sgt. Stephen Crawford, 119th Armament Flight chief, are looking to join the 119th in its new role. 

"I'm trying to get into the Predator business in Fargo," he said. "But I'm sorry to be leaving the fighter business." 

Sergeant Crawford is one of the few 119th members who has been at Langley since the beginning in 1998. 

Colonel Kjelvik said the current Det. 1 members will go their separate ways, but many will try to continue to serve. 

"Some will go into cargo," he said. "Some in Predators, some to the Virginia Guard, some to the Vermont Guard and some will be completely different. We've had some generous offers. The Virginia and Vermont Guards have a need for manpower. It's a mutually beneficial plan that benefits all three states' missions." 

While some will move on to other platforms, leaving the F-16As, the retirement of which prompted the re-roling of the 119th, brings heartache for some 119th members. 

"There's always this argument down in Virginia Beach about jet noise," Sergeant Crawford said. "You either love it or hate it. But when I go on leave, I start to miss it. It'll be hard to give up, but it's time."

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