Maj. Gen. James Hawkins, 18th AF/CC attaches the Air Force Meritorious Unit Award decoration to the 19th ARG guidon as CMSgt. Kevin Hamilton and Col. Chris Bence look on. U. S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp
5/30/2008 - Robins Air Force Base, Ga. -- When it comes to stories, few units can beat the arsenal of tales associated with the 19th Air Refueling Group.
The group's legacy provides an endless supply of sagas as the unit has recorded each chapter in its 80 year history.
On May 28, the Black Knights recorded the end to its many chapters of service during the group's 40-year residence here.
The unit has served in every major conflict since its inception Oct. 18, 1927, and has been designated as an observation, bombardment and refueling unit.
The "bittersweet end" was celebrated during a mission complete ceremony, where past and present members, community champions and family and friends of the unit gathered to say farewell.
As the Black Knights turn the page and its time at Robins comes to a close, the unit is comforted knowing the unit's designation will continue to make history with its new airlift mission.
The group starts its fourth chapter Oct. 1 as part of the newly designated 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base.
Maj. Gen. James Hawkins,18th Air Force commander, said the Black Knights would continue to be invaluable in the war on terrorism as its mission transforms from supplying the warfighter with fuel in the air to supplying Airmen, Marines and Soldiers on the ground with the materials needed to continue the fight.
"This is not the night the lights went out in Georgia," he said.
Instead, he said the 80 years of heritage would serve as a foundation for the 19th Airlift Wing.
"Your flag will continue to play a vital role in our mission as we continue to fight the war on terrorism," General Hawkins said.
Colonel Chris Bence, 19th ARG commander, credited the diligence of the Black Knights in continuing to complete its mission in the wake of impending closure for helping make the Air Force's decision to not fold the group's flag an easy one.
"It's a true testament to the proud heritage and all the men and women of the 19th," Colonel Bence said.
He said Black Knight pride is unwavering. As the group prepared for its deactivation, the group earned numerous honors, including the Air Force Meritorious Unit Award, which was formally presented by General Hawkins, and its eighth consecutive Air Force Outstanding Unit Award.
"You are the most decorated unit in Air Mobility Command and the 18th Air Force, and that is why your flag is going to continue to fly proudly," General Hawkins said.
He added the group had lived up to its maxim "In Alis Vincimus," which means "on wings we conquer," throughout its history.
General Hawkins noted many of the unit's accomplishments, including being in the air within five hours of the attacks on Sept.11 providing homeland defense, and its service during World War II where the 19th Bombardment Group earned the honor of flying the last conventional bombing mission of the war.
Colonel Bence said the many decorations received during the past two years made it evident the group's story could not end.
Colonel Bence was also awarded the Legion of Merit Award for his service as commander and his recent deployment to the area of responsibility where he served as U.S. Central Command Combined Air Operations Center deputy commander of mobility.
He said he humbly accepted the honor because he knows without the support of his fellow Black Knights and his family, he would not have been selected for this honor.
"It truly is a team effort. I was just the one fortunate enough to be 'out front,'" he said.
General Hawkins said Colonel Bence's and his family's footprints were evident throughout the Robins community.
After the ceremony, the group's flags flew away with Cherokee Rose, the group's flagship aircraft, where they were returned to AMC at Scott Air Force Base for safe keeping.
Cherokee Rose's departure was meant to signal the conclusion of the ceremony; however the bad weather delayed its departure until 3:45 p.m.
Members of the unit all agreed the thunder, lightning and rain were a message from God that he too couldn't bear to see the unit's tenure at Robins come to an end.
It was fitting a former Black Knight, Maj. Gen. Fred Roggero, AMC Air, Space and Information Operations director, was behind the controls as Cherokee Rose made her symbolic exit. He served with the unit from 1978 to 1982.
"It's an honor and a privilege to be able to fly the aircraft out, although I know it's a sad day for the 19th and for Middle Georgia area," he said.
Instead of the ceremony ending with Cherokee Rose flying away, it ended in "true Black Knight fashion" as the men and women of the 19th bellowed its chant: "Black Knights, Out Front; Black Knights, Out Front; Black Knights, Out Front."