May 30, 2022
The 139th Airlift Wing
DEFINITION: having or expressing devotion to and vigorous support for one’s country.
When you think of St. Joseph you might automatically think of the Pony Express or the historic architecture, but it’s doubtful many St. Joseph residents can picture the city without the big, gray airplanes that routinely fly over town.
How many little boys and girls look up and picture themselves flying for the 139th Airlift Wing someday?
As the fourth largest employer in St. Joseph, it’s safe to say many young minds see the benefit of joining the Missouri Air National Guard, where they can gain training in countless technical fields while also earning tuition assistance (if they choose to use it).
Many cities across the country are home to a military base and each base has its own specific purpose and its own unique characteristics. None, however, can lay claim to the beautifully uncommon characteristics at Rosecrans and the 139th Airlift Wing, which is a unit of the Missouri Air National Guard.
“We are the right size base in the right size city and that is uncommon,” says Col. John Cluck, 139th Airlift Wing Commander. He also happens to also be the mayor of nearby Wathena, Kans. “Our community supports us without exception, and that local support is also very uncommon.”
For starters, there’s so much history and tradition to consider. The 139th Airlift Wing’s original squadron, the 180th Bombardment Squadron, became one of the first federally recognized Air National Guard units in the nation in 1946. That unit, now known as the 180th Airlift Squadron, remains part of the 139th Airlift Wing, as it is responsible for the operation of the Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft you can often see flying above St. Joseph.
Top image: Col. John Cluck, commander of the 139th Airlift Wing, shakes the hands of new recruits during the Sound of Speed Airshow, at Rosecrans Air National Guard Base, in St. Joseph, Missouri, May 2, 2021. The air show was hosted by the 139th Airlift Wing and city of St. Joseph to thank the community for their support. The air show committee estimated around 30,000 people attended during the weekend performances. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Patrick Evenson)
Left/top: A row of F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron prepare to take-off during the Sound of Speed Airshow at Rosecrans Memorial Airport in St. Joseph, Missouri, May 2, 2020. The air show was hosted by the 139th Airlift Wing, and city of St. Joseph to thank the community for their support. The air show committee estimated around 30,000 people attended during the weekend performances in which the United States Air Force Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron were featured. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Patrick Evenson) Right/bottom: F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron perform during the Sound of Speed Airshow at Rosecrans Memorial Airport in St. Joseph, Missouri, May 2, 2020. The air show was hosted by the 139th Airlift Wing, and city of St. Joseph to thank the community for their support. The air show committee estimated around 30,000 people attended during the weekend performances in which the Thunderbirds were featured. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Patrick Evenson)
In 1962, the 180th was authorized to expand to group level and the 139th was formed. Over the years, the 139th has taken on many group names and units. There are currently four groups and 13 units within those groups assigned to the 139th Airlift Wing, as well as the Advanced Airlift Tactics Training Center (AATTC).
The AATTC is worthy of an “uncommon” story all in itself.
This is a specialized military training center, with courses designed to increase warfighting effectiveness and the survivability of mobility forces. Now in its third decade of operations, the AATTC provides advanced tactical training to the Air Force Special Operations Command, the United States Marine Corp and 16 allied nations.
Yes, 16 allied nations. The beautiful international flags you see hanging inside the AATTC’s building represent the nations who have taken these advanced training courses. This means St. Joseph is blessed to have a frequent international presence at the 139th Airlift Wing. As you are out and about, you’ll see many diverse guard members enjoying local restaurants, culture and entertainment in their off time. They’re part of the local fabric, living in and enjoying our community.
But let’s talk about economic impact for St. Joseph and the surrounding region. In 2021, the 139th pumped more than $72 million into our economy in the form of salaries, wages and other monetary benefits. It’s safe to assume a large portion of those funds entered the St. Joseph economy through housing, shopping, restaurants and other channels. That chunk of change coupled with other investments and expenditures throughout the year resulted in an economic impact of over $224 million on our economy.
Senior Master Sgt. Michael Crane, who is with the wing’s public affairs office, fully agrees. “The 139th Airlift Wing is fortunate to be located in St. Joseph. The wing would not exist without the community support we constantly receive. And we are proud to give back, too. We are the fourth largest employer in town, and the number one user of hotels in St. Joseph,” says Crane.
Left/top: Community leaders from the St. Joseph Community Alliance, learn about the capabilities of the 139th Airlift Wing, Missouri Air National Guard, during a base tour at Rosecrans Air National Guard Base, in St. Joseph, Nov. 23, 2021. The Community Alliance is a group of community leaders from various organizations, such as the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce, the City of St. Joseph, Buchanan County, the School District of St. Joseph, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Mosaic Life Care, Missouri Western State University, 139th Airlift Wing of the Missouri Air National Guard and the United Way of Greater St. Joseph. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Patrick Evenson) Right/bottom: Republic of Korea Air Force Maj. Chae dong Kim, hangs the South Korean flag in the atrium of the Advanced Airlift Tactics Training Center, St. Joseph, Mo., Sept. 21, 2018. This is the first time the Republic of Korea Air Force has sent a C-130 Hercules aircrew to the AATTC course. The mission of the AATTC is increasing the warfighting effectiveness and survivability of mobility forces. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Erin Hickok)
Expansion further fuels the economic impact of the wing. In 2021, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held commemorating the opening of a 14,700-square-foot communications facility. In recent years, the wing has completed additional construction projects, including a quarter mile running track, security forces building, and homeland response force (medical) building. Construction of a C-130H aircraft flight simulator facility began in October of 2020 and is currently underway. The next project currently planned is a new aircraft parking apron.
But wait, there’s more.
As many in our community have likely attended, Rosecrans and the 139th Airlift Wing hosts the Sound of Speed Airshow every few years, with the next one planned for 2024. In 2021, the airshow was named the 2021 Military Show Site of the Year by the U.S. Airforce Thunderbirds! (Exclamation point completely worthy). This is a show that you can’t forget – it’s the heart-pounding, exhilarating and overall awe-inspiring kind of aircraft and pilots that makes you very proud of our base and our region.
The 139th Airlift Wing isn’t just any basic regional asset. This Missouri Air National Guard base is packed with uncommon character from its unique beginnings, to being the home of a specialized tactical training center, and hosting one of the best military shows in the country.
“It’s uncommon for someone to raise their right hand, take the oath of enlistment, and swear to defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. It’s even further uncommon to do so while maintaining a full-time, civilian job,” says Crane. “Not only do we deploy overseas to support the war fight abroad, but we also get activated in the state of Missouri for any emergencies that occur right here in our backyard.
Our members see the world, while serving our country, our state and our local community. They participate in furthering their educations with full tuition assistance for Missouri universities. And all from this one unique location.”
St. Joseph is a city of stories. Like historic towns across the country, there are blocks of amazing homes, business buildings and neighborhoods. Founded in 1843, St. Joseph’s location along the Missouri River and national mid-point created an economic and residential boom fueled by Westward expansion, transportation and communication industries.
Across the city, every day, adults are helping clear a path for youth to reach more opportunities. They are sharing their mentoring skills, life lessons and ultimately, their friendship, through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. And it looks like hanging out at the local burger joint. Taking a walk. Joining other “matches” at the park for crafting with a lot of laughs.
There’s a lot to love about St. Joseph’s Southside. This tight-knit community is on pace for a major comeback.
Forget anything stuffy you might think about symphony or orchestra performances, and consider a symphony experience St. Joseph-style.
Striding through the doors of Artcrafts Engraving Co. transports you from the modern streets of St. Joseph back through our history in manufacturing.