The Pentagon’s decision to end the 86-year history of the Missouri Air National Guard’s fighter wing in St. Louis has produced a unique partnership during the last year between the Guard and the active-duty Air Force.
Air National Guard Colonel Bob Leeker had flown fighters for thirty years, most recently the F-15s of the 131st Fighter Wing. Now he flies the B-2 stealth bomber. The 131st is now a bomber wing partnering with the 509th Air Force Bomber Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base. Full-time and part-time Guard maintenance and flight personnel work alongside their regular Air Force counterparts.
Leeker, the commander of the 131st, and his men know they have a special status. “What it means is that the Air National Guard can be in a combat situation, just as the active duty does, and they can be done right from home,” he says. In the past, the 131st had some time to mobilize when activated. Now, its members can become activated in a matter of hours–whenever they’re needed for a B-2 mission.
About 500 fulltime members of the 131st have moved with their families to Whiteman. Part-timers are driving from St. Louis to the base. Leeker says that in several years, people living in the Whiteman area will joining the unit and it will be entirely Whiteman-based.