From South Vietnam to the Space Force, the 107th Attack Wing saluted its history while promoting new leaders and planning for its future Saturday.
On the same day that two new commanders were sworn in, the Air National Guard unit at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station hosted a reunion of members who were sent to Vietnam in 1968.
Col. Todd M. Guay was installed as commanding officer of the Operations Group of the 107th, while Lt. Col. Thomas Griffin became commander of the 136th Attack Squadron, one of four squadrons that comprise the 107th.
In the past year, the 107th has begun flying drones in the Middle East, as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the air war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and Operation Nomad Shadow, which supplies intelligence to Turkey about movements of Kurdish rebels, according to the Washington Post.
Lt. Col. Shawn Reynolds, Griffin's predecessor, said during a speech at the change of command ceremony that the 136th was the first Air National Guard unit to fly the MQ-9 Reaper drone in Nomad Shadow.
He said that operation "strengthens the strategic partnership with one of our nation's allies. We were the first Air National Guard unit to support the combined defense of the Arabian Gulf. This provided immediate intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to the commanders."
Reynolds said during the past 11 months, the 136th flew 7,255.9 hours "with zero mishaps" and gathered "6,675 hours of signals intelligence for customers across all agencies in the U.S. government. We employed 83 air-to-ground missiles and nine guided bomb units, which removed over 130 enemies from the battlefield.
"These metrics show the 136th Attack Squadron is committed to exceed Department of Defense's request for a more lethal and combat-ready force," Reynolds said.
"As our former wing commander, Gen. (Robert G.) Kilgore, used to say, 'Our job is to put warheads on foreheads,' " Guay said. "I'd like to think the 136th Attack Squadron is the best in the business."
Now President Trump wants to add a Space Force to America's arsenal, and Guay told reporters the 107th will play a role in that.
"We have a space squadron right now. One of our biggest missions moving forward is to try and establish an additional space squadron underneath the 107th Attack Wing, and eventually getting a space group that would equal my group," Guay told reporters.
"They would have a group with two squadrons underneath them, where I have a group with four squadrons underneath right now," Guay said. "That's one of our biggest challenges right now, trying to not necessarily expand the 107th, but to grow and not expand, let's put it that way."
It's all a long way from the experiences of what used to be called the 136th Tactical Fighter Squadron, which deployed 400 men for a one-year mission to Tuy Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam, in June 1968.
"In that era it was pretty unusual to call up an Air National Guard unit for anything," said veteran Robert Hull, 71, of Wilson. Only four Air National Guard units were sent to Vietnam during the entire war.
"That came about because the Tet Offensive had started and they needed more troops there to combat their drive," recalled Col. LaVerne "Dusty" Donner, who then was the commanding officer of the 107th Tactical Fighter Group, as the local unit was then known.
Donner, 97, said the unit flew combat support missions in F-100 fighters, firing 20mm cannons and dropping napalm on the Viet Cong.
"We were very fortunate that we only lost one pilot. A couple of the airmen got wounded in a sapper attack, but they recovered," Donner said.
That was the night Viet Cong infiltrated the base and started blowing up planes.
"There was a big fire down by the airplane line. Sappers had gotten on base and burned up a couple of transport aircraft and one of our unit's fighters," Donner said. He said the attackers were all killed.
It wasn't the kind of duty most National Guard members signed up for. Joining the Guard was seen by many as a way to avoid being drafted and avoid Vietnam.
"Everybody was being drafted, so the reserves were certainly a consideration. The Air National Guard was difficult to get into," Hull said.
But he said Vietnam "wasn't a bad experience overall."
"We were on the South China Sea. We had a beach," Hull said. "We weren't professional soldiers. We didn't have that attitude."