Shaw Air Force Base saw the return of a World War II veteran on Friday — not in the form of an individual, but in the form of the 495th Fighter Training Group.
The group was disbanded at the end of the war in 1945 after training pilots to fly in the European war theater, and was inactive until this week when it was reactivated at Shaw. The 495th will integrate active-duty airmen with members of the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard, including the guardsmen at McEntire Joint National Guard Base near Eastover, for combined training.
Under the command of Lt. Col. Juris Jansons, the Shaw-based group will oversee nine other Air Combat Command units at bases stretching from Vermont to Texas, with administrative control of more than 500 airmen. During the next two years, that number is slated to grow to about 825.Maj. Gen. Lawrence Wells, commander of the 9th Air Force at Shaw, hailed the new group as an example of the Air Force’s policy of “total force integration” at a formal activation ceremony Friday morning at the Carolina Skies Club on base.
“This will allow our active-duty personnel to train with the National Guard and Reserves to take advantage of their experience,” Wells said. “History shows this will be a mutually beneficial relationship.”
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The ceremony was attended by airmen from both Shaw and McEntire who will make up the new training group, including Col. Mike Hudson of the 169th Fighter Wing at McEntire. Hudson is the senior officer of the largest operational F-16 wing in the Air National Guard and will now have the responsibility of training Shaw’s airmen.
When younger, active-duty airmen train alongside reserve officers, “they can take advantage of us older, more experienced folks,” Hudson said, pointing to his own graying hair to emphasize the point.“Our unit has more experience, so we can upgrade them a little faster,” he said.
Wells placed overall administrative control of this new training group in Jansons when he formally unfurled the 495th’s new standard and handed it over to the commander. Jansons is a veteran of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan who comes to Shaw from the 388th Operations Group at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.
“I know he’s prepared and excited to accept this command,” the general said. “I look forward to his success.”
Even though the training group didn’t officially come out of its 68-year slumber until Friday, Jansons said his staff is already well under way in getting the unit organized.
“About a quarter of the people here are already doing jobs above and beyond their duties for the 495th,” he said.
Jansons noted that many of the airmen now involved with the training group have flown a total of 300 sorties over Afghanistan, racking up more than 1,000 flying hours in the combat zone. That experience will be helpful for younger airmen in the training group.
“By nature, (the Reserves and Guard) are a more experienced group because a lot of them move into the reserves after they finish with the regular Air Force,” Jansons said.
During a time of budget cuts and reductions in military spending, the new training group allows resource sharing among the different components of America’s air defenses.
“We have the lowest number of aircraft and men since 1947,” when the modern Air Force was created, Wells said, making the 495th even more important for training.
Both commanders made much of the historic group’s heritage. The 495th was based in Britain throughout World War II, training American pilots to fly alongside their allies. Today’s airmen face a similar challenge, flying as part of a coalition force in Afghanistan.
“That’s very moving to me,” Jansons said. “Our mission echoes theirs.”
Jansons also emphasized the country’s wartime challenges when addressing the training group as its commander for the first time.
“Put yourselves 20 years into the future,” he said. “Recognize that you are making history now. People will read about what you did to support your nation in a time of war.”