137 SOW squadron celebrates 70 years

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brigette Waltermire
  • 137th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

Seventy years ago on Feb. 13, 1947, the Oklahoma Air National Guard’s 185th Fighter Bomber Squadron – the precursor to the 137th Special Operations Wing – was established at Max Westheimer Field in Norman, Oklahoma. 

The fledgling unit consisted of the minimum allowance of 24 officers and 36 enlisted Airmen, who flew, maintained and supported the Wing’s primary aircraft – the F-51. Ten months later, the 137th Fighter Group was established to support the 185th.

In need of longer runways and partially destroyed by a tornado, the unit moved in 1949 to its current location in Oklahoma City at Will Rogers Air National Guard Base, formerly Will Rogers Army Air Field. In 1952, the 137th Fighter Wing was later established to provide additional support.

At the time, the fighter missions were designed to intercept and attack Russian bombers if they flew over U.S. airspace. It was also during this period that the 137th provided trained pilots for service in the Korean Conflict.

“The 137th has supplied trained fighter and transport pilots for all of the nation’s wars from Korea to the present war on terror,” said Col. Douglas Hayworth, 137th Special Operations Wing vice commander.

The Wing remained fighter-oriented until 1961, when they transitioned from a fighter mission to an airlift mission with the C-97 and later the C-124. One of the C-97s, “Miss Oklahoma City”, was unique in that it had been modified for airborne command and control. For a period during its service, it acted as the communications link for President John F. Kennedy during his global travels.

Nearly a decade later, the 137th was re-designated as a Tactical Airlift Wing, ushering in the age of the C-130 Hercules. The C-130 mission was a long-lasting calling for WRANGB and included a wide range of operations.

“We've participated in numerous humanitarian and domestic operations missions and have provided airlift support for every major military conflict since Vietnam,” said Hayworth. “We've also dropped hay to starving cattle, airlifted people out of hurricane areas, helped with drug interdiction efforts, and carried supplies into earthquake relief operations.”

The C-130 was a WRANGB fixture until it was replaced by the KC-135 Stratotanker in 2007, and flying operations were moved to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City as part of the first ever Air Reserve Component association between the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command. The new association utilized aircraft owned by the AFRC’s 507th Air Refueling Wing and, for the first time in the Wing’s history, the 137th did not own the aircraft they flew and maintained. 

Today, Wing members are growing and transitioning into their new roles under the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command. The 185th Operations Group is now flying the MC-12W, which provides heightened battlefield awareness for combatant forces in a new and modernized battle environment.

The 137th continues to grow significantly since its birth in 1947, but one thing that has not changed is the pride, kinship and success shared by decades of Airmen. The past 70 years has established a deep foundation that will serve the Wing well as it continues a tradition of excellence.