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Fairchild regains historic 97th ARS memorabilia

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Joseph Ekker inspects the 97th Air Refueling Squadron’s memorabilia box before loading it onto Fairchild’s KC-135 Stratotanker

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Joseph Ekker, 97th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, inspects the 97th Air Refueling Squadron’s memorabilia box before loading it onto Fairchild’s KC-135 Stratotanker, on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Aug. 20. The 97th ARS was inactivated Sept. 30, 2004, at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, and is scheduled to reactivate Oct 1, 2019, at Fairchild.

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Joseph Ekker gives a brief to individuals from Data Monitor Systems and Airmen from the 97th ARS

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Joseph Ekker, 97th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, gives a brief to individuals from Data Monitor Systems and Airmen from the 97th ARS, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Aug. 20. The memorabilia box was located at the U.S. National Air Force Museum due to an Air Force Instruction that states that if a squadron is deactivated, items deemed full of heritage and imperative to the reactivation of the squadron are to be packaged and sent there.

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt, Joseph Ekker signals to Kevin Shaffer, Data Monitor Systems material handler

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Joseph Ekker, 97th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, signals to Kevin Shaffer, Data Monitor Systems material handler, on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Aug. 20. Due to the addition of 12 KC-135 Stratotankers coming to Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, the squadron is scheduled to reactivate Oct. 1, 2019.

U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 97th Air Refueling Squadron move a box of memorabilia onto a KC-135 Stratotanker

U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 97th Air Refueling Squadron move a box of memorabilia onto a KC-135 Stratotanker on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Aug. 20. The flight to WPAFB was the first flight that the 97th ARS accomplished as a team since inactivating in 2004.

U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 97th Air Refueling Squadron unbox a guidon from their memorabilia box

U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 97th Air Refueling Squadron unbox a guidon from their memorabilia box on Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, Aug. 22. The guidon from the memorabilia box will be the same one used in the reactivation ceremony.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Chris Dieter adjusts dials in the cockpit while flying over Idaho

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Chris Dieter, 97th Air Refueling Squadron director of operations, adjusts dials in the cockpit while flying over Idaho, Aug. 20. On the way to and from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, to pick up the memorabilia, the 97th ARS also aided in rapid global mobility through aerial refueling a Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt, an F-35 Lightning II and a B-1 Lancer.

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Joseph Ekker supports the tail of a Fairchild KC-135 Stratotanker

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Joseph Ekker, 97th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, supports the tail of a Fairchild KC-135 Stratotanker in preparation for 97th ARS Airmen to load 97th ARS memorabilia, on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Aug. 21. The memorabilia contained the original guidon, history of the squadron, old patches, old aerial refueling photos, and many more historical artifacts.

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. --

A KC-135 Stratotanker and aircrew from Fairchild AFB retrieved the 97th Air Refueling Squadron’s heritage box from Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, Aug. 20. Inactive since Sept. 30, 2004, the squadron’s box full of memorabilia brings the squadron’s history to light as they prepare to reactivate here on Oct. 1, 2019.


The squadron previously existed at Fairchild between 1994 and 2004. The squadron’s heritage box bridges the 15 year gap to allow the future squadron members to retain the proud heritage and culture of the Airmen who came before them.


"The biggest key is that [the memorabilia] brings heritage and the culture of the existing unit,” said Master Sgt. Matthew Hunsinger, 97th ARS boom operator. “It allows us to get a feel for the unit as it was.”    

The heritage box contained items such as awards Airmen obtained, photographs of members and several other objects with historical meaning. The box also contained the squadron’s guidon, something special that will be used in the reactivation of the 97th ARS.

“The [old] guidon will be the same guidon that we use in the activation ceremony,” said Lt. Col. Dieter, 97th ARS director of operations. “We’re able to use it because it’s in the same operations group, and the same wing.”

Airmen from the 97th ARS plan to use the heritage items from the box as a stepping stone to making the squadron their own. 

“We always want to be true and faithful to the heritage of the unit. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have leeway to make it our own as well,” Hunsinger said. “I think that for the success of the unit, it’s a combination of both in creating our own identity.”

Memorabilia from the box will also give Airmen an understanding of how ground-breaking the 97th ARS was prior to its inactivation.

“We learned a lot about things people didn’t realize, for example the 97th patch shows the big dipper on it because it was the first unit to do night air refueling,” Hunsinger said. “We can take those old stories and use them as ammunition to build the future based off of the past.”

After the unit deactivated, the remnants of the old 97th ARS were placed in the box and sent to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson.

“Every time a unit deactivates, there’s an Air Force Instruction that says you will put a certain number of items in a heritage box,” Dieter said. “It’s almost as if you’re being told to put a time capsule together. When it’s time [to reactivate] the Air Force says, ‘here is your identity, here is your unit number and insignia.’”

Through a legacy of heritage and culture, the 97th ARS is ready to reactivate and increase Fairchild’s role in rapid global mobility.