Story by TSgt Jessica Condit on 03/07/2019The 189th Airlift Wing has a long history of different mission support over the years. As changes within the wing occurred, the 189th Maintenance Group rolled with the punches and changed their processes as well. With all the changes over the course of the wing's history, the process was told visually through photos, graphic designs and objects that came into play and became obsolete as the years went on.
Walking into the maintenance hangar, you will find yourself in the "ice cream parlor." The main foyer has a plethora of maintenance memorabilia that defines the group over the ages and showcases the men and women who dedicated their military career to ensuring the aircraft they supported were fit and ready to fly. Photographs and pieces of aircraft long since gone adorn the walls and fill display cases for visitors to look at. Some pieces might make you wonder how maintainers were so successful in the past when you compare them to the tools used now.
Along with the displays and pieces of history adorning nearly every wall and hallway, the group established a heritage room designed to encourage maintenance camaraderie and boost morale. The project eventually included an in-house gym, which meets all the legal criteria for use. According to Senior Master Sgt. Connie Laughlin, a 189th Maintenance Group budget analyst, the gym has a consistent flow of users on the many different shifts that maintenance covers.
"It went from just being something of a small little closet, to being a room. The idea was to boost morale while displaying our maintenance heritage," said Laughlin. "With the way that maintenance works, we have multiple shifts. Due to maintenance quick response on last minute maintenance requests, the needed specialists needed to be here. The solution was to create an environment where they could work out, eat their meal and take breaks without leaving their place of duty."
Using downtime, several maintainers worked diligently to ensure they covered the span of the wing's maintenance history, to include the role played in WWI to present. Uniforms were donated to the group by current and former members of the wing as well as tools and aircraft pieces that have long gone out of commission.
"For me, coming to a new unit that's already established and finding out where you fit in is a big deal," said Staff Sgt. Tracie Winston, a 189th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief. "The unit I came from, was kind of the same way. There wasn't much there so I started taking pictures every drill, then I'd put a collage on the wall. It was a way to look back and remember things. When I got here I started doing the same thing and realized how interesting the history of the 189th AW was."
For Laughlin and Winston, one motivation was to instill a sense of belonging in the new or younger Airmen who are coming to the group. They wanted to ensure that these Airmen were written into the history of the wing and maintenance and knew they had the opportunity to do so with the new project being created. They also hoped to bring back a family atmosphere for the Airmen and their families.
"Hopefully this will help them see the importance of what they do when they come into work or walk out to the flight line," said Winston. "We still want to work on getting collages and current pictures of these Airmen so two or three years from now, they can say oh I remember doing that, I remember that person,' and it will be relevant to them as well."
Full from end to end with photos, Laughlin and Winston sat in their office for hours sorting through old boxes of negatives and prints that could be used to add to the heritage display. After selecting photos, they went through the tedious task of hanging selected photos and identifying people and places long since gone. Winston expressed how interesting and unique it was to see history connect as she dug further and further into the group's past.
Future plans include extensions of the heritage assemblage that focus on the Arkansas Air National Guard in museums such as the Jacksonville Museum of Military History and the Arkansas National Guard history museum at Camp Robinson. Laughlin explained the importance of displaying the Air Guard's history in the predominantly Army and Marine Corps museums.
"As we leave this unit, my hope is that we will be able to pass the torch onto a new group of people who will continue to work on this project," said Laughlin. "This new generation, they cannot fathom the idea how much different this whole wing used to be. The more each generation sees of the past, the easier it will be for them to keep it going."