Local officials joined members of the New York Air National Guard's 107th Airlift Wing to acknowledge the venue's redesignation as the 107th Attack Wing. The ceremony was held Tuesday at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.
Col. Robert Kilgore, the commander of the 107th Attack Wing, spoke about the name change, which marked the wing's transformation from flying the C-130 Hercules to operating the MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft.
"This is a historical day for the 107th," Kilgore said at the ceremony. "From our beginnings in 1946 as a fighter (group), we have changed missions and names many time. We have flown fighters, bombers, tankers and cargo aircraft. Officially, we redesignated 15 times over the years and we have been assigned 14 different aircraft. All these names and aircraft have been significant in representing the contributions we made to our nation (and friends)."
He added, "Today we recognize our new MQ-9 aircraft with anew designation: 'attack wing.' "
The 107th Airlift Wing was officially re-designated the 107th Attack Wing on March 15. The name change reflects the wing's mission of providing aircrew members and supporting staff trained to operate the MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft.
In addition to the remotely piloted aircraft mission, the wing is also responsible for the 274th Air Support Operations Squadron from Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, and the 222nd Command and Control Squadron in Rome.
Although the wing's name has just officially changed, it began the transformation and training of its crews and personnel in 2014.
Kilgore described the name change as "symbolic."
He said, "It hasn't really changed what we're doing. My folks have been flying this mission for almost three years, if you will. But that name is important to us. It really shows what we're doing - that we're making a contribution - and that's pretty important to us."
With the new name change comes a sense of security for the base, Kilgore said. The new mission, now reflected in the base's new name, has put a "bedrock" in the future of the base, he said.
To support the mission, the base is in the process of finishing a newer, multimillion-dollar facility.
"We have probably sunk almost $4 million to infrastructure and facilities and equipment already. I think whenever you make that kind of investment you poise yourself for the future. ... I don't think we're going anywhere for years and years to come," Kilgore said.
The base has had to construct the building, put in the computer equipment, as well as add connections needed to operate the aircraft in order to support an MQ-9 aircraft.
Currently, Kilgore said members of the wing often travel to other bases to help operate the aircraft.
Kilgore said he predicts an MQ-9 will be coming to Niagara Falls "very, very soon."
Although the MQ-9 is an unarmed aircraft, it takes approximately 50 people to operate it, Kilgore said.
With this technology, he said, "We are able to use the aircraft to lower it over the battlefield for a significant period of time - 20-plus hours. And it provides our commanders on the ground with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). ... In addition, because we do carry the missions and the bombs, we have that attack capability. So, if we identify al-Qaida or ISIS, we can strike those targets and remove them from the battlefield."
Chief of Staff of the New York Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Timothy LaBarge and City of Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster congratulated the wing on its new name change and accomplishments.
LaBarge said the MQ-9 mission is incredibly complicated, and yet those at the base have caught on quickly. He said the accomplishments were a testament to the perseverance and resilience of all those involved with the mission.
The MQ-9 Reaper is an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft that is employed primarily against dynamic execution targets and secondarily as an intelligence collection asset. Given its significant loiter time, wide-range sensors, multimode communications suite, and precision weapons, it provides a unique capability to perform strike, coordination and reconnaissance against high-value, fleeting and time-sensitive targets.
Tribune Editor Lauren Zaepfel, the New York State Division of Military & Naval Affairs and readMedia contributed to this report.
Col. Robert Kilgore, commander of the 107th Attack Wing, speaks about the wing's name change to members of the wing and local officials.
Tech. Sgt. Mark Dascomb reads the special order redesignating the 107th Airlift Wing as the 107th Attack Wing.