19th ARG recognizes 8 decades of Black Knights during 80th Birthday Bash

  • Published
  • By Amanda Creel
  • 78 ABW/PA
On Sept. 18, the Air Force marked its 60th birthday. Just one month later, Oct. 18 marked the 80th birthday for the 19th Air Refueling Group.

Members of the unit agreed the realization their unit's history began 20 years before the Air Force made last week's festivities more meaningful.

The group hosted a two-day 80th Birthday Bash, Oct. 18-19, where former and present members had the opportunity to learn about the trials and triumphs of the group throughout its 80 years.

The group refused to let such a significant occasion pass by without taking the time to celebrate the many accomplishments of the men and women known today as the Black Knights.

During the 80th birthday bash, former members of the unit were treated to incentive flights on the KC-135 Stratotanker, KC-135 Simulator flights, and an open house where they had the opportunity to tour the Alert Facility, a KC-135 static display and Bldg. 2072. The heritage celebration also included an opportunity to participate in the 19th Heritage Group golf tournament, an evening social and the Black Knight Heritage Dinner and Ball.

Black Knights from throughout the group's tenure were on hand to reminisce about days gone by and share stories from their own service.

"I learned a lot from the ball and it made me appreciate being a member of the 19th ARG," said 1st Lt. Octavio Prieto, a KC-135 pilot with the 99th Air Refueling Squadron.

He said one of his favorite parts of the ball was a video spanning the entire lineage of the unit.

"Seeing them (the past Black Knights) watch the video, getting all nostalgic, made me appreciate being a part of the 19th," Lieutenant Prieto said.

Col. Chris Bence, 19th ARG commander, said one of his favorite things about the festivities was hearing former members of the unit say "I haven't seen you in 20 years" accompanied with a heartfelt hug.

"It has made me very proud to be able to offer this opportunity for my fellow Black Knights," Colonel Bence said.

Members of the 19th ARG past and present gathered during the celebration to honor one another and celebrate what could be the group's last birthday as an active unit in the Air Force.

"I am hoping the people who are here now appreciate the honor of the 19th and what part they have taken," said Dallas Falk, who was a B-47 Stratojet crew chief with the 19th Bombardment Wing from 1957 to 1960.

Mr. Falk said he was proud to be surrounded by so many heroes of the past, because those who served before him "made this country."

"Now, as I stand here today and see these guys in flight suits and fatigues, they are my heroes too, as they continue carrying on the freedom of our country," Mr. Falk said.

Mr. Falk commended the 19th ARG for celebrating not only the refueling mission, but the other missions the group had been responsible for.

Staff Sgt. Marcus Barnes, a boom operator with the 99th Air Refueling Group, said he enjoyed being able to hear about the many missions in the unit's past, while having the opportunity to share with fellow Black Knights about their mission today.

He said he was glad he was given the opportunity to be one of the static display boom operators who had the opportunity to share his present mission with those attending the open house at the alert facility.

"My favorite part was seeing all the old maintainers and crew members come on board," he said.

No matter what era the Black Knight served, there was an evident excitement as they spoke about their fellow comrades -- whether they were reminiscing about the past or commenting on those who followed in their footsteps.

Lt. Col. Dana Nelson, who served as a Black Knight from 1996 to 1999 as a KC-135 Stratotanker navigator and flight commander, said some of his fondest Air Force memories were during his time with the 19th ARG.

"This is a unit that is near and dear to me," he said.

Colonel Nelson was thrilled the 19th was taking the time to recognize all the contributions of the unit throughout its history and said the unit history was filled with stories that needed to be told.

He took the opportunity to show his two sons Caleb, 7, and Seth, 1, about his days as a Black Knight during a simulation flight at the KC-135 Simulator.

No matter when the uniform was worn, all the members of the unit past and present were sadden by the upcoming unit deactivation and hated seeing the unit fold its flag after so many years of great service.

"The 19th is one of the most decorated units in the Air Force. I am very disappointed the Air Force has decided to deactivate it," said Ron Barlett, who served with the 328th Bomb Squadron as a B-52 Stratofortress navigator from 1972 to 1975.

Sergeant Barnes said it was overwhelming to think about the impending deactivation as he heard stories and listened to the memories of the Black Knights, who served before him.

"It (the heritage celebration) allows people to really reminisce and gives everybody closure," Sergeant Barnes said.

He added it helps everyone realize "It was a great life and now its time to let it rest."