By Staff Sgt. Dillon White , 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, Public Affairs
/ Published June 19, 2015
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, MD -- Airmen of the 373d Support Squadron furled their unit's guidon June 2, 2015, atop Misawa's Security Hill at Misawa Air Base, Japan, to mark an end to the unit's presence at Misawa since July 17, 2000, when it was reconstituted and redesignated there.
The inactivation of the 373d SPTS is part of a larger plan for the 373d Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group to relocate in the coming weeks to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Boling, 373d SPTS commander, addressed his comments to attendees comprised of distinguished visitors and guests from the 70th ISR Wing as well as the host unit, the 35th Fighter Wing.
Amongst the roughly 100 Airmen in attendance, only a final remaining 10 were from his squadron.
"We're celebrating the closing of this chapter of the 373d SPTS's history, leaving with our heads held high, and proud of the legacy of hard work and achievements."
The Airmen of the 373d SPTS moved more than 400 people out of the largest building on Misawa's Security Hill, to include furniture and excess material in more than four acres of office space to return to Misawa AB control.
Boling said he and his Airmen chose not to focus on the inactivation in remorse, but instead on the opportunity to save the Air Force time, money and resources. The squadron brainstormed ways to make the security operations center more efficient.
The Squadron also focused on teamwork and camaraderie.
"This focus kept my Airmen motivated and upbeat - all while saying goodbye as Airmen departed," he said.
In all, 373d SPTS Airmen removed more than 350,000 feet of cabling and reclaimed an additional 10,000 feet of reusable cabling for future use. This work saved the government more than $10 million in clean-up costs.
Also in attendance at the ceremony was Command Chief Master Sgt. Mark Thomas, 70 ISRW command chief and alumni of the site. During his tour at the site in 1990, the Air Force was more than 500,000 Airmen strong and the site had its own dining facility, fitness center, dormitories and fire station.
As the footprint shrank in the following years, those facilities were incorporated into Misawa's main base.
For the enlisted Airmen involved with the many changes in the 373d ISRG, Thomas offered his advice in an interview following the ceremony.
"Always remember that change is inevitable, but it is not inherently positive or negative ... Rather, change is typically a response to a stimuli...the key is to figure out how to make it work for you, your Airmen, and your organization," Thomas said. "As [ U.S. Army Gen. (ret.) Erik Shinseki]once said, 'If you dislike change, you'll like irrelevance even less.' Developing skills to cope with change and seeing the change through the lens of long-term progress while understanding your role in making that progress happen, is the key. "
During an interview following the ceremony, Boling said the 35th Fighter Wing assisted the unit every step of the way during their transition.
"Finally, I'd like to offer a heart-felt thank you to the Airmen of the 373d SPTS," he continued. "I'm deeply indebted to them for the blood sweat and tears they invested into Misawa's Security Hill. Their hard work and sacrifice will make a lasting difference in the future success of the Misawa Security Operations Center."
Col. Michael Winters, 373d ISR Group commander, also addressed the Airmen in attendance.
"Today's ceremony celebrates change," Winters said. "We honor our mission and its people; we honor past accomplishments of the unit...and honor our heritage and the spirit of our traditions."
He explained the contrast of the site's horizon line following the dismantling of the FLR-9 antennae, between the time that Boling took command and the day of the inactivation ceremony.
"I told [Boling] that we'd really have to work hard and think in time ... and marry these tasks to our departures ... We needed to get to work disassembling, et cetera while governing the burden on our Airmen. [Boling} heard me loud and clear and understood what we had to do."
Winters said that a month later, he was invited to have another look at the FLR-9.
"They did not tell me why, but they indicated that our Airmen had something to show me. My description of what I saw cannot do justice. It is indescribable. Hundreds of thousands of feet of cables had been pulled after the equipment had been de--energized ... racks prepared for removal. Our Airmen and their leaders had done something great." he said. "And to those of you with whom I served, perhaps only you will understand as deeply as I do. The accomplishments of the 373d SPTS were truly extraordinary - in every sense of that word."
Winters also described the buildings and how the 373d SPTS Airmen maintained them as well as the FLR-9 antennae prior to the deconstruction and inactivation.
"They knew every cable and every fiber," he said. "They repaired connectors and assured our 24/7 mission. These Airmen took this charge to heart. No one wanted a halt to operations on their watch."
Col. Kevin Dixon, 70th ISR Wing commander, also addressed the final remaining 373d Airmen and 35th FW attendees.
"Airmen here have provided time-critical intelligence to U.S. theater battle commanders, unified and specified commands, as well as national and Department of Defense leadership," said Col. Kevin Dixon, 70th ISR Wing commander, during the ceremony. "As a consequence of both Department of Defense and Air Force efforts to re-capitalize intelligence capability for the combatant commanders and the Joint Warfighting Team, leadership provided us an opportunity to reallocate and realign our capabilities to that intent."
Dixon also highlighted the Airmen's impact at Misawa AB and in the local community.
"From Airmen Against Drunk Driving to Top Three participation ... from the response after the 1963 Great Misawa Fire to Operation Eyesight to the recovery activities following the Great Earthquake of 2011," Dixon said. "These Airmen took leadership roles. They invested themselves. They sacrificed their time, sweat and tears -- perhaps a little blood - to give back to those from which they received so much."
In closure, Dixon read aloud letters written by Maj. Gen. John N.T. Shanahan, 25th Air Force commander, and Lt. Gen. Robert Otto, deputy chief of staff for ISR, Headquarters U.S. Air Force. Their comments were directed to not only the 373d SPTS, but the 373d ISRG as whole.
Otto wrote "It is you that make the ISR enterprise world class. The members of the 373d ISR Group symbolize the commitment to the constant vigilance of U.S. Airmen on Security Hill for the past 62 years. You are a dedicated force who does what's required to make tomorrow better than today. For that, I am extremely proud."
Shanahan wrote that, "... While the Elephant Cage may fade from the skyline at Misawa, the memories of these Airmen and what they have accomplished will linger forever. We must never forget the tremendous legacy of Airmen at MSOC..."
The Airmen ended the ceremony with their squadron's chant, "In the fight ... but out of sight!"