As the northernmost U.S. fighter wing in the world, the 354th Fighter Wing's F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft provides our nation with combat-ready forces capable of reaching anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere at moment's notice.
The 354th Fighter Wing has a long and illustrious past. Since its constitution in 1942, the unit has seen action in every major conflict in which the United States has been involved, except for the Korean Conflict. From the skies over Germany to the sands of Iraq and Afghanistan, the 354th has performed with courage distinction.
World War II
Activated Nov. 15, 1942 at Hamilton Field, Calif., the 354th Fighter Group trained in P-39 aircraft there and at other Army airfields for nearly a year. In October 1943, the group moved to Greenham Common, England, where it became the first group to use the new P-51 Mustang. From their first combat missions in December 1943 through the end of the war, the "Pioneer Mustang Group" wreaked havoc on the German Luftwaffe. Altogether, pilots of the 354th scored 701 confirmed enemy aircraft destroyed in air-to-air combat. Of a total of 44 aces -- 5 or more enemy aircraft destroyed -- Lt. Col. Glenn Eagleston was the leading ace, downing more than 18 aircraft.
For four months in late 1944 and early 1945, the 354th flew P-47s and switched its focus from escort and air superiority to fighter-bomber missions--strafing and dive-bombing enemy targets in Belgium, France and Holland. The wing's efforts during the war earned it two Distinguished Unit Citations and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm.
After V-E Day, the group served with the army of occupation before transferring back to the United States in February 1946 and inactivating. On Nov. 19, 1956, the Air Force reactivated the unit as the 354th Fighter-Day Group stationed at Myrtle Beach AFB, S.C. It was redesignated the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing in July 1958.
Post-World War II through Southeast Asia
The wing initially flew RF-80 aircraft, but by 1957 they became fully operational as the Air Force's first F-100 Super Sabre wing. The 354th remained at Myrtle Beach until mid-1968. During that span, the wing's flying units deployed to major crisis locations around the globe, including Lebanon in 1958, Berlin in 1961, Cuba in 1962 and the Dominican Republic in 1965. They also deployed to Italy and Spain to fulfill NATO commitments and to replace units that rotated to Vietnam.
The 356th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) left the wing in 1965 to be assigned at Misawa, Japan. This started an exodus of sorts that ended with the 353rd TFS being assigned to Torrejon Air Base, Spain; the 352nd TFS at Phan Rang Air Base, Vietnam; and the 355th TFS at Phu Cat Air Base, Vietnam.
The wing inactivated at Myrtle Beach AFB in 1968 and activated at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, where it served as host-wing for rotating Air National Guard F-4 squadrons from mid-1968 until June 1970. It then returned without personnel or equipment to Myrtle Beach, and was charged with combat crew training in T-33s and with becoming proficient in A-7 aircraft. In early 1972, the 354th became the first operational A-7D unit in the Air Force.
In late 1972 the wing split into rear and advance echelons, the latter commencing combat operations from Thailand in October 1972, and achieving distinction as the last U.S. military unit to employ weapons in Southeast Asia. The 354th earned a Presidential Unit Citation for its service October 1972 through April 1973. It recombined at Myrtle Beach in 1974.
Persian Gulf War
The 354th converted to A-10 aircraft in 1977. For more than a decade, it conducted routine A-10 missions, including numerous deployments and exercises. The routine came to an abrupt end in August 1990, when the 354th deployed as one of the first units in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Shield. When Operation Desert Storm's air war began in January 1991, wing pilots initially flew against early warning radar and Scud missile sites.
The 354th also flew search and rescue missions. Capt. Paul Johnson earned the Air Force Cross when he and Capt. Randy Goff, also of the 354th, enabled the rescue of a downed Navy pilot 200 miles inside Iraq. As the conflict evolved, the wing turned its attention to deep interdiction missions and the Iraqi Republican Guard.
Finally, when the ground war commenced in late February, the 354th performed the mission it had been trained to do before the war - close air support. By any account, the devastation was considerable. By the end of the conflict, A-10s throughout the theater destroyed more than 950 tanks, 900 artillery pieces and two helicopters in air-to-air combat. Despite the rout, the victory was not without cost to the wing. Capt. Steve Phyllis died while protecting his downed wingman, 1st Lt. Rob Sweet. Sweet was repatriated after the war. The 354th returned home from the Gulf in March 1991 and was redesignated the 354th Fighter Wing in October of that year. Because of the impending closure of Myrtle Beach AFB, S.C., the unit was inactivated in March 1993.
Less than five months later, on Aug. 20, 1993, the 354th Fighter Wing replaced the 343rd Wing as host unit at Eielson AFB. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Merrill McPeak ordered the change as part of a service-wide effort to preserve the lineage of the Air Force's most honored wings. The wing continues its history of excellence today as the farthest-north fighter wing in the United States Air Force.
Since becoming the host wing at Eielson, the wing expanded the capabilities of the Joint Pacific-Alaska Range Complex (JPARC). RED FLAG-Alaska (RF-A), which began with Cope Thunder exercises in 1992, is recognized as the premier combat training exercise in the Pacific, if not the world.
Units from the wing deploy for training to places as diverse as Singapore, Malaysia, Guam and Korea. Additionally, they were involved in deployments to Southwest Asia and Italy in support of ongoing contingency operations. In December 1998, the 354th Fighter Wing flew combat missions in Operation Desert Fox. This marked the first combat experience for an Alaska-based fighter unit since World War II.