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100 years, all for freedom

U.S. Army Air Corps pilots assigned to the 79th Fighter Squadron fly P-51 Mustangs, Sept. 11, 1944.

U.S. Army Air Corps pilots assigned to the 79th Fighter Squadron fly P-51 Mustangs, Sept. 11, 1944. The pilots provided escort during a frantic mission, which were long-range missions where U.S. forces hit targets in Germany and continued on to land in Russia. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force pilots assigned to the 79th Fighter Squadron (FS) stand for a photo in front of an F-84B Thunderjet at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., circa May 1949.

U.S. Air Force pilots assigned to the 79th Fighter Squadron (FS) stand for a photo in front of an F-84B Thunderjet at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., circa May 1949. The 79th FS will celebrate its centennial on Feb. 22, followed by a dual community celebration in June with its sister unit, the 77th FS, “Gamblers.” (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Army Air Corps pilots assigned to the 79th Fighter Squadron pose in front of a P-38 Lightning at Ontario, Calif., in 1943.

U.S. Army Air Corps pilots assigned to the 79th Fighter Squadron pose in front of a P-38 Lightning at Ontario, Calif., in 1943. The P-38 was the first aircraft the squadron entered combat with. (Courtesy photo)

An F-16CM Fighting Falcon pilot assigned to the 79th Fighter Squadron returns home to Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., May 4, 2017, after a six-month deployment to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. While deployed, the pilot supported Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, which focuses on assisting Afghanistan’s people and government. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Destinee Sweeney)

An F-16CM Fighting Falcon pilot assigned to the 79th Fighter Squadron returns home to Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., May 4, 2017, after a six-month deployment to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. While deployed, the pilot supported Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, which focuses on assisting Afghanistan’s people and government. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Destinee Sweeney)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- The 79th Fighter Squadron, “Tigers,” is scheduled to celebrate its 100-year anniversary on Feb. 22, at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina.

The Tigers are one of three fighter squadrons on Shaw AFB, all of which prepare, employ and sustain combat-ready suppression of enemy air defenses and close-air support; additionally, the unit has provided support to many major conflicts.

Arthur Sevigny, 20th Fighter Wing Association historian, said the Tigers were first activated as the 79th Aero Squadron at Waco, Texas, in 1918. Where they had supported the war effort performing tasks ranging from aircraft maintenance to radio operation and carpentry.

In World War II, the unit escorted bomber aircraft with their P-38 Lightnings during long-range missions to Germany; they also took advantage of railroads along the way carrying Axis Power supplies.

“You’ll hear whenever someone says ‘79,’ somebody else will respond with ‘Loco,’” said Capt. Spencer Peot, 79th FS electronic combat pilot. “The story behind that is, in World War II when we were flying P-51 Mustang’s, a big part of the mission was to go and destroy locomotives and take out supply trains.”

In 1944, the 20th Fighter Group transitioned from the Lightning to the North American P-51 Mustang, which provided the fighter squadrons with extended flying range and more horsepower. During the group’s participation in WWII, the squadrons destroyed approximately 400 locomotive engines, earning them the title of, “Loco Boys.”

Their extensive heritage continued on and the Tigers would later provide air cover during the Invasion of Normandy, become a deterrent to Soviet aggression during the Cold War, and deliver support for various other operations including Joint Task Force Proven Force, Operation’s Northern Watch, Southern Watch, Desert Shield and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

Sevigny said heritage is important for the practical use of learning from previous mistakes and successes to aid in the current mission.

“It is also important to know that you fit into a long and proud past, following in the footsteps of prior (service) members all pulling for the same cause year in and year out to ensure our families continue to live in a safe and free world,” said Sevigny. “We have an obligation to live up to the standards and traditions of those that came before us and make or improve a few along the way. Today's Airmen will one day be the old warhorse, and it would be reassuring to know they towed the line.”

Additionally, the 77th Fighter Squadron, “Gamblers,” assigned to Shaw AFB will celebrate its centennial on Feb. 20. As sister units, the Tigers and the Gamblers plan to have a public celebration in June, inviting the Shaw community and past aircrew and maintainers for tours, roll call, a formal dinner and other events.

“We’re going to continue to get better at what we do and the goal right now is in line with the 20th Fighter Wing’s goal of being the premier SEAD unit,” said Peot. “If the fighter wing’s goal is to be the premier SEAD wing, our goal is to continue to work … and become the best SEAD unit the United States Air Force has to offer and have everyone look to us for answers to tough questions.”

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