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SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE at 90

From its humble beginnings as a 623-acre aviation training site to its transformation to become a major command headquarters base, Scott Air Force Base has been many things in the 90 years it's been in St. Clair County.

This year, the base celebrates that milestone, capped by the Scott Air Show next weekend.

On June 15, 1917, the headlines in the Belleville Daily Advocate, read: "Aviation camp site to be near Belleville -- Government selects site in Shiloh Valley Township as place for instruction of Aviators for Army -- Hundreds of men will be employed there -- Nearly a million dollars to be expended -- location of camp near here is biggest thing that ever happened to Belleville industrially -- Work on new camp will in all probability start immediately."

Today, the base has grown to cover more than 3,600 acres and has nearly 1,000 buildings, not including more than 1,400 family housing units and four dormitories.

It pumps more than $1.7 billion into the local economy annually and employs more than 14,200 active duty, Guard, Air National Guard and Reserves military members and civilian personnel. It is the largest employer in the metro-east and is home to three major military headquarters: Air Mobility Command, U.S. Transportation Command and the Surface Deployment Distribution Command.

Other agencies at the base include the 375th Airlift Wing; the 18th Air Force Headquarters; the 932nd Air Force Reserve Airlift Wing; the Air Force Communications Agency; the Defense Information Systems Agency; the Defense Information Technology Contracting Office; the Global Patient Movement Requirements Center; and the 126th Air Refueling Wing of the Air National Guard.

"With (Base Realignment and Closure), there have been significant changes at Scott that are in play now, and will continue to be in play over the next few years," said Col. Al Hunt, commander of the 375th Airlift Wing, which is the host agency at the base.

"Personally, I see this as the hub of Department of Defense transportation. There is a lot of transportation-related activity that goes on at Scott Air Force Base, and Transcom is the lead command at the Department of Defense for that process. The unique thing about Scott is they bring a lot of diversity in terms of organizations contributing to an overall common mission -- which is supporting the president and the Department of Defense in terms of worldwide movements."

On Jan. 13, 1948, the base formerly known as Scott Field was renamed Scott Air Force Base.

The 2007 Air Show on July 7-8 will celebrate the base's 90th anniversary and the 60th anniversary of the Air Force. The theme of this year's air show is "Heritage to Horizons." It will feature aerial demonstration teams, demonstrations from F-15 and F-16 West Coast demonstration teams, the Black Dagger parachute team, a flyover and static display of the B-2 "Spirit" stealth aircraft, and the NASA "Journey to Tomorrow" trailer.

"We are looking forward to the air show and for the opportunity to be able to showcase our capabilities and our aircraft to the surrounding communities," Hunt said. "Air Force Week is July 2-6, and the week culminates in the air show."

Beginning today, about 500 personnel with the Military Surface Distribution Deployment Command will begin arriving at the base, another command brought to the base through the last BRAC. The new facility for the command is expected to be completed in July 2010 and at that time, the full organization of 800 will be at the base.

The current site for the base was selected by the War Department on June 14, 1917, and 3,000 people worked around the clock for 60 days to build the first 52 buildings at what was then known as Scott Field. It was named after Cpl. Frank S. Scott, the first enlisted man to die in an aircraft accident.

By Sept. 11, 1917, the first 24 cadets began their flying training at Scott Field and prepared to head off to fly in combat squadrons during World War I. A year later, the first aeromedical evacuation flight left Scott, a precursor to what the base would become known for in the next decades.

In 1919, the federal government bought the 632 acres from St. Clair County for $119,285.

After World War I ended, Scott practically closed down. There was one officer and a few enlisted caretakers assigned to the base. It soon became a U.S. Army "lighter-than-air" center that trained balloon and dirigible pilots. In 1923, a $1.2 million dirigible hangar was built that was 810 feet long, 206 feet wide and 178 feet high. It no longer exists.

The base has trained radio operators and mechanics, weather observers and aeromedical evacuation personnel.

In later years, it became known for its medical evacuation functions as the traffic control center for movement of troops and cargo around the world. In the 1990s, Scott became a joint-use base that shares runways with MidAmerica Airport.

The base will be expanding even further in the coming years, Hunt said.

"New infrastructure, new missions, new commands, they are all coming in the future. It's all very exciting," Hunt said. Scott is one of the few military installations that has representatives from each branch of the military, as well as the Guard and Reserves.

"We are a joint total force and we are rather unique. We are not the only one, not by a long stretch, but we have a lot of joint total force organizations here at Scott."

Contact reporter Jennifer A. Bowen at jbowen@bnd.com or 239-2667.

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