TERRE HAUTE — The buildings may have changed, and the mission has certainly changed, but the pride remains the same when those celebrating the 60th anniversary of the 181st Intelligence Wing of the Indiana Air National Guard came together Saturday at Hulman Field.
Back in 1954 when the unit moved from Stout Field in Indianapolis to the eastern edge of Terre Haute, the mission added a lot of air traffic to the skies of the Wabash Valley. The jets are now gone, and the mission is one of technology, support and surveillance of military operations around the globe.
A group of retired guardsman who made the move from Stout Field were among those honored during the ceremony.
Senior Master Sgt. Terry Mills recalled working in Quonset huts and plane hangars that no longer exist on the base.
“It kinda hurts when you see all the stuff you spent time on gone, but they have a different mission now,” Mills said.
He saw the transformation of the farmland around the airport as the air base was added. He recalled with a laugh how the guardsmen had to water a nearby farmer’s cows after they covered up his well.
A highlight in the ceremony was the unveiling of a painting by artist Bob Follett. It includes renderings of all the aircraft that were flown from 1954 through 2008 by the 181st at the base, as well as a panel of people monitoring unmanned systems via technology.
Follett said he spent about 100 hours creating the framed art, which will hang in the 181st headquarters.
He said he started talking about the design of it in April, working out details with base leaders, and researching the planes.
“It’s a watercolor, so it’s very challenging to create,” Follett said. “One mistake ruins it all.”
Major General R. Martin Umbarger, Indiana National Guard adjutant general, commended Follett for showing the history of the base.
Umbarger recalled that 10 years ago, during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the unit in Terre Haute, there was an uncertainty about the future of the base.
The flying era for the Racer family ended in 2007, but the new mission of distributive ground service and air support operations squadron gave new life to the base.
“It was tough on all of us,” Umbarger said of the change, but he was impressed at how the skilled people already at the base chose to learn new skills to keep the wing located in Terre Haute.
“You became a highly regarded intelligence wing in not only the National Guard, but also in the entire United States Air Force,” Umbarger said.
He also noted that the 181st costs the government only 28 cents on the dollar compared to the costs of an active duty air wing, yet the 181st handles the same jobs as well.
Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett also said he and the area residents are grateful that the 181st has remained at Hulman Field for so many years. It is an economic benefit to the community, he said, and it requires highly trained people who reside in the area.
Congressman Larry Bucshon added his praise for the 181st to the ceremony, and letters of support were read from Sen. Dan Coats and Sen. Joe Donnelly, who were unable to attend the celebration.