Heritage is important to the mission

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Paul K. Tom
  • 5th Flying Training Squadron commander
Heritage is an important part of any squadron's culture and mission. The quote from an unknown author, "In order to know where you're going, you must first know where you have been," inspires the idea that we all must learn about our unit's heritage to fully embrace the impact of our present missions. 

The 5th Flying Training Squadron will unveil a new morale patch this week to represent the proud history of the 5th FTS. Our squadron's mission has changed many times over the past 68 years, but I believe it is very important to pass on the heritage, achievements and sacrifice of those before us.

The stories, emblems and faces of these soldiers give us the inspiration, identity and morale to accomplish the difficult challenges ahead. 

The 5th Pursuit Squadron was activated Jan. 16, 1941, as a component of the 52nd Pursuit Group. The squadron trained in the P-39 "Air Cobra" and P-40 "War Hawk" aircraft throughout the United States until their first deployment to England July 12, 1942. 

The pilots received British "Spitfire" aircraft and began extensive training under the Royal Air Force. The recent movie, "Pearl Harbor," gave a good recreation of American pilots flying with the RAF and depicts an environment very similar to the first deployment of the 5th PS. 

During this period the squadron adopted the "Spittin' Kitten" emblem which will be depicted on the heritage patch in original form. It symbolized the acuteness, ferocity and striking power that the squadron would deliver during their extensive aerial combat record during World War II. 

The 5th PS would undergo many reassignments and redesignations through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. It proudly flew workhorse aircraft such as the P-51, F-86, F-106 and F-15. 

On Jan. 16, 1951, the squadron adopted the current emblem and lynx mascot as seen on our current patch. Five stars were added to signify the squadron's numerical designation, with the colors blue and yellow to represent the Air Force. 

The 5th FTS was reactivated at Vance AFB April 1, 1998, along with the 43rd Flying Training Squadron at Columbus AFB, Miss., as the first Reserve Associate squadrons in Air Education and Training Command. 

These units were called to duty by then Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Ronald Fogelman, to offset the significant shortfall of Air Force pilots. Our squadron is the largest flying unit on Vance with 100 personnel flying in all three 71st Flying Training Wing airframes. 

What I have gleaned from studying my squadron's rich written and photographic history is that those of the past were not very different than the Airmen of today. They were faced with many uncertainties, changing missions, critical timelines and challenges in a wartime environment much like we are experiencing now. 

Yet they accomplished the mission with selfless service, teamwork, morale, ingenuity and sacrifice. I believe these qualities could only have been manifested through dedication and commitment to their squadron's identity, purpose and mission. 

My challenge to you this week is to learn a little more about your unit's history. Try to gain a better understanding of your squadron patch that identifies you with the heritage and achievements of your organization and this great Air Force!