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Carolina Stories

Always First: The S.C. Air National Guard



The Story of the South Carolina Air National Guard This documentary tells the story of the S.C. Air National Guard, and the men and women who were part of it. Interviews include: the daughters of Gen. Barnie McEntire, first base commander, and Mark Morrell, son of Gen. Robert Morrell (deceased), second base commander. Other famous guardsmen include: Grady Patterson, Gen. Bob Johnson, and Senator Lindsey Graham.

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In-Depth

The Air National Guard, flying combat and reconnaissance missions, and forming an aircraft control and warning squadron, supported U.S. efforts in the Korean War. In 1961, 747 airmen were activated in the Berlin Crisis. Twenty F-104 Starfighters were dismantled, flown to Seville, Spain, and reassembled for duty. The swift, decisive buildup of American forces in Europe influenced Khrushchev to back down, and war was averted. More recently, the South Carolina Air National Guard has served in Operation Desert Shield/Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. It has earned a reputation of being “Always First,” and is very well respected by the United States Department of Defense.

The 169th Fighter Wing is the primary unit of today’s South Carolina Air National Guard, flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The 169th is headquartered at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, along with the SCANG’s other two operational units--the 240th Combat Communications Squadron and 245th Air Traffic Control Squadron. An interview was conducted with the daughters of Gen. Barnie McEntire, first base commander. Gen. McEntire died on a mission in 1961, crashing his stalled F-104 Starfighter into the Susquehanna River, in order to avoid heavily populated areas around Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Governor Fritz Hollings presented a plaque to his widow, and the base, originally known as Congaree Army Air Base, was renamed for him. Hollings said: “His memory shall live as long as appreciation for leadership and dedication remain in the minds of men.”

Mark Morrell, son of Gen. Robert Morrell (deceased), second base commander, was also interviewed. Gen. Morrell was the first officer selected in the Air National Guard. During World War II, Morrell trained pilots and was temporarily assigned to advise author John Steinbeck who wrote a book about the Air Corps. State Treasurer Grady Patterson joined the Guard as a lieutenant in 1947. He became commander of the 169th Fighter Squadron and later Assistant Adjutant General for Air. Gen. Bob Johnson as a captain participated in a race from California to Michigan to publicize the speed of the new F-86 jet, averaging over 550 mph and earning him a kiss from actress Anita Ekberg. Johnson was one of the first to fly the F-104 Starfighter in the early sixties, breaking the sound barrier. He became group commander in 1971.

John Clifton Watson was the first African American to serve in the South Carolina Air National Guard. Taj Troy is the first African American fighter pilot. Tally Parham is the first female pilot. Lt. Col. Linda Keck recently commanded the SCANG’s 240th Combat Communications Squadron in Kyrgyzstan. Senator Lindsey Graham is a former member of the S.C. Air National Guard. Base commander currently is Col. Keith Coln. Col. Deane Pennington is vice wing commander. Today, Brig. Gen. Tim Rush, assistant adjutant general for Air, and Brig. Gen. Ken Jefferson, chief of staff, lead the South Carolina Air National Guard. The 169th Fighter Wing commander is Col. Keith Coln, and Col. Deane Pennington and Col. Leck Patterson are wing vice commanders. This program was funded in part by the L.P.A. Group, Aviation Consultants.


Behind the Scenes

Always First - Behind the Scenes

Interview with Steve Folks, the producer and director

What was the inspiration behind making this program and its topic?

Bob Morrell, a shooter at the Spartanburg station whom I have known for a long time, suggested a historical documentary about the South Carolina Air National Guard on the occasion of their sixtieth anniversary, December 9, 2006.

If you could describe the production in one sentence what would it be?

Jets! (I did it in one word.)

What is the message that you want viewers to take away from the program?

I think the viewer will learn, as I did, that the job of “traditional guardsman” in the South Carolina Air National Guard is not really just “one weekend each month and a two-week drill in the summer.” It may still be considered a “part-time job” for some; but because of the technical nature of the work, the job requires a whole lot of time and dedication. Many employees at McEntire Joint National Guard Station are in fact full-time.

What was the most difficult part of making the production?

Keeping my earplugs in. The F-16s make quite a racket.

Because of a budget, were there any special tricks used to make the most out of a dollar without decreasing the quality of production?

No special tricks, though we tried to make the most of each day, as it is a trek out to McEntire from ETV.

Were there any unforeseen obstacles (weather, actors, etc) that hindered production?

Interviews had to be scheduled on non-flying days.

Is there a defining scene and what is its significance?

When the canopy of the cockpit comes down, the crew chief, standing beside the plane, salutes his pilot; the pilot salutes back and begins taxiing onto the runway. This moment of absolute trust epitomizes the faith each member of the guard has in his or her comrade, and how much they depend on one another. The fact that they rarely let each other down is probably why the SCANG has been so successful.

Has making the program given you a new appreciation for anything?

I have never had much contact with any branch of the military. It is serious business—flying jets that cost millions of dollars; deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan; each day being a matter of life or death; etc. My father was in the Air Force near the end of World War Two—at that stage of the war, the U.S. military machine was running at full steam—I guess my experience with this program is helping me appreciate what it was like for him to have been part of that Herculean effort.

Was there extensive research done to ensure historical accuracy or was there more room for artistry?

We are trying to get it right. A few histories of the S.C. Air National Guard exist—we aim to correct anything that is wrong and find out as much as we can from primary sources, i.e. people who were there and have fairly reliable memories.

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