Today for most people marks a day for practical jokes. Such is not the case for the men of the 17th Troop Carrier Squadron. Five years ago, April 1, 1961, at Dyess AFB, Texas, the 17th TCS was activated as part of the 64th Troop Carrier Wing (TAC). Dyess AFB was the unit's home station for the next three years from which the 17th sent its crews to carry out the world-wide missions of the Tactical Air Command. During its stay there, the 17th was assigned the general mission of providing the necessary aircraft and crews to engage in the transportation of airborne forces, their equipment and supplies in possible long range movement to any part of the world as part of the Consolidated Air Strike Forces. Air Evacuation within he theater of operations was a part of the mission. In addition, the unit was assigned the mission of providing continuous logistical support to Greenland Ice Cap radar sites. Consequently, the 17th TCS flies the only ski-equipped C-130 Hercules in the Air Force today.
The 17th has been commanded by Col. John H. Statts since March 1963. He is a World War II veteran with 24 years of service. A native of Pennsylvania, Colonel Statts began his military career with the Royal Canadian Air Force in August 1941, and later transferred to the Army Air Corps in 1942, and piloted B-17s in the European Theater. His awards include the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with 12 clusters, and the Commendation Medal with one cluster. Since 1946, Colonel Statts has served tours of duty in London, England; Bolling Field, Washington; Keesler AFB, Mississippi; Germany; the Pentagon; and Dyess AFB, prior to arriving at Elmendorf in June 1964.
The Red Firebird patch, emblem of the 17th TCS, has traveled across the snowy Arctic regions, South America, from the Far East to Europe and to the Indian Ocean. Since 1961, the 17th has flown in support of various operations such as Swordfish, Swift Strike I and II, Sunday Punch, the Mercury Space Project, Polar Siege, Polar Strike, Northern Hills, Long Shot, and many others.
Both here in Alaska and in the "Lower 48" the 17th has conducted troop carrier operations with various units of the Army's Airborne Brigades. Many special missions have been flown in support of various Army Test Centers such as the Airborne and Electronics Board at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the Quartermaster Research and Evaluations Test activity at Laguna Army Air Field, Arizona (Editors note: Fort Huachuca Military Reservation), and more recently the Army's Test Center at Fort Greely, Alaska.
The re-supply of the two DEW line sites on the Greenland Ice Cap has been a continuing operation of the 17th since its activation in 1961. During the past five years, the 17th has compiled impressive figures in carrying out the re-supply mission. Over 11,000 hours have been flown-much under some of the most adverse weather conditions found on the globe-in carrying out this mission. Over 4,100 sorties, requiring 3200 ski landings, have been flown to airlift 44,100,000 pounds (22,050 tons) and 12,655 passengers between Sondrestrom AB, Greenland, and the Ice Cap. In addition, the 17 TCS conducts Air-Sea Search and Rescue missions, aero-medical evacuation, and other special missions. Due to limited medical facilities in the Far North, the emergency aero-medical evacuations take on added importance. Many missions of this type have often involved long non-stop flights with little or no crew rest to such places as Copenhagen, Denmark; Goose Bay, Labrador; and Andrews AFB, Washington, D.C.
Two of the more note-worthy special missions supported by the 17th crews in the Greenland area were the Greenland Astronomic and Gravity Project in 1961, and the French Glaciological Project in 1964. The Astronomic and Gravity Project was conducted by the Army to study the Greenland Ice Cap during the Geophysical Year. The French Glaciological Project was conducted by a private research foundation from Paris to study the growth and flow of the Greenland Ice Cap. A crew of the 17th risked their lives to save a member of the French research team who was suffering from an apparent heart attack. The 17th crew made an open snow landing at 11,000 feet 360 miles north of Sondrestrom to pick him up. In both projects, the 17th provided technical support and air dropped supplies and POL products.
During the past five years, the members of the 17th
have aided greatly in further Danish-American relations. Typical
examples have been the Christmas airdrops of candy and presents
donated by personnel at Sondrestrom to some of the isolated Greenlandic
villages. More recently, on March 23, a 17th crew departed for
Sondrestrom with a gas kitchen range bought by the Sondrestrom
Men of the Chapel to give to a Greenlandic orphanage located in
the tiny fishing village of Lichtenau in southern Greenland.
April 1, 1966
Donavon "Don" Wilkerson
17th Troop Carrier Squadron Pilot