In June 1941 Hawkins Field, Jackson MS was designated an Army Air Base. The facility served its country well as a pilot training center through January 1949; then reverted to civil aviation status. The military returned in the summer of 1953 when the Mississippi Air National Guard began utilizing certain facilities of Hawkins Field. This use continued until early 1963 when the 172d moved to the Jackson International Airport facility in Rankin County MS.
The 172d began in 1953 as the 183d Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (Night Photo) at Hawkins Field in Jackson MS. The unit was assigned 18 B-26 aircraft. (The RB-26 was a modified twin-engine bomber, first seeing service in World War II.) Originally designated the Douglas A-26 Invader it was used in combat over Europe. The B-26 saw combat again in Korea, was retired, but revived briefly for Vietnam as a special operations aircraft. In addition to the B-26s, the squadron had C-47s which were called into their first emergency duty when a 1953 tornado struck Vicksburg. The C-47 was used to fly medical and emergency equipment into the river city.
The C-119 was the first conversion aircraft assigned to the 183d which in 1957 became the Aeromedical Transport Squadron (Light). Six Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcars replaced the RB-26. The C-119 widened the mission of the unit. By 1961 plans for a new airport were on the drawing board. The Government leased 64 acres of land in Rankin County to the City of Jackson for the new Air Guard complex. Construction of the present base began on 15 April 1961.
On 1 July 1962 the C-121 Lockheed Super Constellation aircraft arrived in Mississippi. They were sleek, four-engine propeller driven aircraft. Saturday, 1 June 1963, marked the beginning of the unit's world mission with a flight to Germany in the C-121.
A reorganization of the unit took place a year after its move to Thompson Field, in 1964. The 183d was upgraded from squadron to group status and redesignated the 172d Air Transport Group. The reorganization increased unit manning to a total of 927 officers and airmen, and retained the 183d Air Transport Squadron as its flying squadron.
The C-124 Globemaster was assigned to the Mississippi Air Guard in 1966. Nicknamed "Ole Shakey" because of the constant vibration of the airframe in flight, the C-124 was capable of carrying a wider range of outsized cargo than any other aircraft in the Air Force inventory at that time.
Air Guard transport units were staying busy in the mid-60s flying missions in support of American forces in Vietnam. In June 1967 the 172d was singled out to fly the 1000th support mission into South Vietnam.
Hurricane Camille hurled its far-reaching impact from the Mississippi Gulf Coast to Jackson on 17 August 1969. Within hours after Camille struck, the C-124s were in the air headed for Gulfport ANG Training Site. The dramatic, suspense filled days following the hurricane saw the 172d's response to the emergency: the unit flew 20 missions into the area, evacuated 670 Gulf Coast citizens, including 264 hospital litter patients. The Globemasters, which hauled over 60,000 pounds of cargo into the disaster area, also transported other elements of the 172d to participate in relief operations.
Less than two months after the destruction visited by Hurricane Camille, the unit launched an ambitious and unprecedented mission on 9 October 1969 with a maximum force airlift to Southeast Asia. The airlift included one mission a day for seven days to supply equipment and material for American troops in the war zone.
On 13 December 1971, the 172d converted to the C-130E Hercules aircraft. In 1980 the 172d received the latest version of the Hercules, the C-130H, the ultra-modern model. After 27 years in the business, the 172d finally received a brand new, factory-fresh aircraft. In September 1974 Hurricane Fifi struck Honduras. Two of the unit's aircraft carried emergency supplies to the storm victims.
From 18 February to 1 April 1978 the 172d participated in Operation Volant Oak, an Air Force-sponsored deployment to the Panama Canal Zone. Under Volant Oak, the cargo mission of the Air Force Southern Command would eventually be turned over to units from the Air National Guard and the USAF Reserve, on a rotating basis, relieving regular AF units assigned to Howard Air Force Base in the Canal Zone.
In 1980, the 172d became the first Air National Guard unit to win the John J. Pesch trophy for sustained outstanding performance in flying safety.
Thirty-three years of exemplary service paid off on 12 July 1986 when the first C-141B Starlifter to be released from Air Force control arrived at Thompson Field to begin its new mission with the Mississippi Air National Guard. With a total of eight aircraft, the unit began a new mission in strategic airlift that greatly expanded its global range.
In March 1988 the 172d took part in the airlift of approximately 3200 troops and almost 1000 tons of cargo on an exercise to Palmerola Air Base, Honduras. The 172d had the distinction of being the only Air National Guard unit in the United States which participated in the airlift of troops to Honduras. On 6 December 1988 the Soviet Republic of Armenia suffered a powerful earthquake. The first Air Guard aircraft to fly to Armenia was a C-141B from the 172d. Before relief missions ended, the 172d would fly six missions with its planes and crew and additionally would furnish a crew to fly a U.S. Air Force C-141 whose crew had reached maximum flying hours.
When, in September 1989, a devastating hurricane struck the tiny island of St. Croix, leaving the island crippled, the 172d flew eleven emergency relief missions, hauling 465 tons of cargo and 472 passengers and encompassing 165 hours of flying time.
The 172d flew 21 sorties in support of Operation Just Cause in Panama during the period 20 December 1989 to 12 January 1990. The total amount of cargo transported during the support of Operation Just Cause was 403.6 tons and the total number of passengers was 1,274.
The 172d's support of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm began on 7 August 1990 when aircrew members began voluntary missions. Approximately 98 aircrew members flew missions on a volunteer basis until 24 August when the 183d Airlift Squadron was activated by Presidential Directive. During the period from August 1990 to May 1991, the 148 members of the 183d flew 2,880 sorties which transported 15,837 passengers and 25,949.2 tons of cargo.
In January 1994, a cattletruck full of Southern Baptist missionaries rolled off the edge of the roadway in Honduras. Since the majority of the group of 37 were Mississippians, and the local Honduran airline had gone bankrupt, Governor Kirk Fordice's office was called by the American Embassy and immediately the Mississippi National Guard was contacted. Since the situation was life threatening, and proper medical facilities were not available locally, a C-141B Starlifter crew of the 172 Airlift Wing was alerted along with a medical team from the 183 Air Evacuation Squadron, a unit of the 172d. Within 24 hours, the aircraft left Jackson MS for Honduras.
The unit has received nine Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards for exceptionally meritorious service. The unit has twice been awarded the Major General John J. Pesch Flying Safety Award for sustained achievement in flying safety, in 1980 and 1988. The 172d amassed 190,000 accident free flying hours on 22 March 2001 and has proven the ability of the Air National Guard to fulfill its role in the Total Force concept.
The 172 Airlift Group was redesignated the 172 Airlift Wing on 1 October 1995.
On 20 November 1995, Congressman G. V. "Sonny" Montgomery announced that six operational C-17 aircraft will be assigned to the 172d Airlift Wing, Jackson, Mississippi.
When asked about the C-17 announcement, Major Richard B. Howard, Commander, 172 Aircraft Generation Squadron, responded "We're excited. The depth of our maintenance folks' experience in supporting cargo aircraft -- the C-124, the C-130, the C-141 -- shows that now we're ready for the next challenge." The 172d Airlift Wing Commander, Colonel Maxey J. Phillips, echoed Major Howard's comments "we feel very fortunate that we were selected to receive the airplanes. We feel there is a great deal of confidence in the unit to be assigned that airplane. We felt like we were the best unit to be selected because of our experience, performance and background in the airlift missions."