Sentry Eagle over the years

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson
  • 173rd Figther Wing Public Affairs
Col. Steve "Slick" Harper remembers the first Sentry Eagle which took place in 1986 when he was the base commander. After seeing another guard base do an open house Harper thought it would be a good idea to host one at Kingsley Field.

Simultaneously, one of his fellow instructor pilots pointed out that the Klamath Basin provided every opportunity to host a large number of fighter aircraft because there was enough space and enough people to pull it off.

Harper quotes Capt. Jesse James, one of his instructor pilots, saying, "'besides that, we're all getting stale just writing out grade sheets and we want to go fight somebody.'"

Harper agreed to allow the multi aircraft exercise with the stipulation that he be able to open the front gates to the families and the community. Among his reasons, the Air National Guard's tenure at Kingsley was very young and he felt they needed to make a name for themselves.

"We were new, just a couple years old and we wanted to build our street cred among the fighter community," said Harper. "We knew we were good but we needed to show everybody else--and we did."

He goes on to temper that just a bit saying, "We just wanted somebody to see our stuff and take it home; we weren't really showing off on purpose."

On that week in June, 37 aircraft convened for more than 80 separate sorties to practice Dissimilar Air Combat Training, or put another way to control the airspace in scenarios ranging from bomber sweeps to air interdiction and maybe even a dogfight or two. In those days Sentry Eagle drew a large variety of aircraft: F-106s, F-4s, A-7s, F-16s and F-15s, all of which refueled from a loitering KC-135 tanker. Today units still fly in from around the country but only F-16s, F-15s and the KC-135 are still a part of the line-up.  Future plans include fifth generation fighters but it remains to be seen when they will actually participate.

In any event, the things the inaugural exercise showcased are still true today; every participant would see that the range space is large and convenient to the base, and enjoy some of the 300+ days of sunshine, also known as good flying weather, the area boasts every year.

These early years for the ANG at Kingsley catalyzed a piece of culture that endures today. Col. Billy "Rogue" Cox, a former base commander, remembers how the base earned its moniker.

"An early class in the F-4 named us the Land of No Slack," said Cox. "We were very thorough in our job, if a student had any deficiency or issue on a ride we made real sure they got a chance to do it again."

Visiting Airmen could take the name back to their home units and to this day every Kingsley pilot wears the orange "No-Slack" patch on their left arm.

Cox reflects back from those early years when Sentry Eagle was brand new to today where it is a fixture for the base and the community and says what began as an exercise has endeared itself to the local community and become a fixture.

He goes on to say that as the base's longevity increases it has added key audiences.  This includes a younger generation, some of which have joined the ranks of 173rd Fighter Wing Airmen including Cox's own son who is currently an instructor pilot at the "Land of No Slack."  He describes Sentry Eagle as "more of a family-plus-public-plus-the training the aircrews get out of it."

Initially Kingsley Field hosted Sentry Eagle every year but at some point it became an every-other-year affair. This time around it's been four years as sequestration cut funding for a 2013 Sentry Eagle.

One thing that hasn't changed was best expressed in the lead-up to the very first Sentry Eagle in the local paper June 19, 1986, "Continual training is a requirement, even if it is a lot of fun!" said Harper.