By Master Sgt. Matt Proietti, 452nd Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 24, 2005
MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif. -- The 730th Airlift Squadron retired from service March 19, 62 years after it first stood up as a bombardment unit during World War II.
“It’s a bittersweet day,” said 452nd Operations Group Commander Col. Jeffery Robertson. “We get to renew some old friendships, but it’s also a rather sad occasion when we say goodbye to a gallant, proven warrior and an old friend.”
March Field’s remaining four C-141 Starlifter cargo aircraft will retire from service in April.
The unit has flown Starlifters for 37 years. Plans call for the squadron to surface again in two years at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, flying C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. C-17s are also coming to March Field later this year to be flown by the 729th AS, the lone remaining cargo unit in the 452nd Air Mobility Wing. Many 730th people have already received C-17 training and will join the 729th AS, while others have chosen to retire or seek other jobs within Air Force Reserve Command.
Members of the squadron gathered in a historic aircraft hangar for a ceremony in advance of the unit’s official April 1 retirement. “Taps” played as they sheathed the unit’s guidon, the wooden staff which features the 730th flag and campaign ribbons showing its battle history.
Lt. Col. Michael Fortanas relinquished command of the 730th with ceremonial flair by passing the guidon to Colonel Robertson, who passed it to Master Sgt. Craig Spencer, the squadron’s first sergeant.
“It’s a very somber occasion and has weighed heavily on my heart,” said Colonel Fortanas. “When I took command, I asked (for us) to go away with dignity. You made it happen.”
Some unit reservists, including Senior Master Sgt. Robert Ziegler, a 730th loadmaster for 25 years, won’t continue flying. He has chosen to synch the end of his time in the sky with the passing of Starlifters from the Air Force’s active inventory.
“It’s been a long run and (the C-141 Starlifter) is a good plane, but it’s time to go. She’s old.”
Still, Sergeant Ziegler has a couple of missions left in him, including one in late March to Finland.
“We’re just hauling some stuff. Somebody up there needs it,” he said. “That’s what we do.”
Colonel Robertson, a longtime tanker pilot, praised Starlifters and the unit.
“I judge the merit of a plane on how old it is and how much it did. What you people did with it for (so long) is a tribute to the aircraft.”
The lone remaining airlift squadron at March ARB is the 729th, which like the 730th and 728th traces its history to World War II and Deopham Green air base east of Cambridge, England. The squadrons started as B-17 bombing units in May 1943, later serving in Europe from February 1944 to April 1945.
They were inactivated in August 1945 following the end of World War II, but two years later the 452nd and its three squadrons became Air Force Reserve units in Southern California. Its members were called to active duty in August 1950 to serve in the Korean War for nearly two years, flying reconnaissance missions and providing close air support and air interdiction.
The 730th flew at least 10 types of aircraft and had a succession of titles through the rest of the 1950s and much of the following decade, being known as a tactical reconnaissance squadron, tactical bombardment squadron, troop carrier squadron and a tactical airlift squadron. It became the 730th Military Airlift Squadron in March 1968, when it was selected to be the first associate unit in the Air Force Reserve, a system in which reservists fly active-duty aircraft and augment active-duty crews, in this case C-141 Starlifter cargo planes. It was known as the 730th MAS for a quarter-century until “military” was dropped from the title and the unit became the 730th Airlift Squadron.
Its crews carried cargo globally and airdropped paratroopers and equipment, flew medical evacuation missions and served during the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Squadron reservists flew the first U.S. military mission into Mongolia and brought home former Vietnam prisoners of war and, years later, the remains of GIs reported as missing in action.
Throughout its life, it served alongside the 728th and 729th squadrons, first in England and later at Norton AFB in San Bernardino. The 728th was reassigned to McChord AFB, Wash., in January 1992, where it now operates C-17 aircraft as an associate unit. The 729th and 730th moved to March Field in 1993 during Norton’s closure.
While the afternoon of March 19 was time for military ceremony, a dinner that night at the March Field Museum offered a casual setting for the sharing of memories by current and former members, many sporting beards and hair longer than Air Force regulations allowed during their careers. Among the museum’s displays was one recognizing the World War II achievements of 8th Air Force, the parent unit to the 452nd Bombardment Group and the 730th Bombardment Squadron.
“I was so jazzed, really pumped,” said Sergeant Ziegler. “There were people from way, way back, even before my time. I knew so many of the faces. It was such a great evening.”
Dozens of spouses were there, too, and they were thanked for their support of the unit.
“You don’t get this kind of camaraderie in other organizations,” said Col. Wes Taylor, the 452nd Air Mobility Wing’s vice commander and former head of the 730th.
During the official ceremony that afternoon, Colonel Taylor noted that he has come to the end of his military flying days with the retirement of Starlifters.
“I don’t believe this life is set up for ease and comfort. I don’t think that’s the purpose. The purpose is to overcome challenges and learn from them.”