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21st Space Wing Heritage: On Guard Throughout the World

21st Space Wing Heritage: On Guard Throughout the World

Peterson AFB History 21st Space Wing Heritage


The 21st SW has stood guard for freedom and democracy since 1942. During this period of nearly 70 years, the wing has evolved through a series of missions and has served at numerous active-duty locales worldwide. The 21st SW proudly displays the honors of two earlier units that served in World War II, the 21st Bombardment Group and the 21st Fighter Group.

The history of the 21st began in the first half of World War II when the 21st Bombardment Group activated at Bowman Field, Kentucky, in February 1942. From February to June 1942, the 21st Bombardment Group served as an operational training unit while rotating through Columbia Army Air Base, South Carolina, and Jackson Army Air Base and Key Field, Mississippi. The group served longest at MacDill Field, Florida. From June 1942 until inactivation in October 1943, the 21st conducted anti-submarine patrols over the Caribbean Sea.

The 21st finished the last half of World War II in the Pacific Theater. The 21st Fighter Group activated in April 1944 at Wheeler Air Field, Hawaii. Between April 1944 and October 1946, the 21st Fighter Group steadily advanced across the Pacific alongside victorious American forces, never staying more than a few months in any location. In addition to Wheeler Field, the group also served at Mokuleia Field in Hawaii. Then, from February 1945 until inactivation in October 1946, the 21st relocated from Central Field and South Field on Iwo Jima to Isley Field on Saipan, to Northwest Field on Guam.

The 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing, which activated Jan. 1, 1953, is the oldest direct ancestor of the 21st Space Wing. Originating at George Air Force Base, California, the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing served at Chambley Air Base, France, in the role of air defense from December 1954 until inactivation in February 1958. The wing received its official emblem while stationed overseas on July 23, 1957.

The 21st activated again as the 21st Tactical Fighter Wing on July 1, 1958, this time in the Far East. The wing conducted the mission of air defense at Misawa Air Base, Japan, until inactivation in June 1960.

The 21st served longest at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska; in fact, a total of 25 years spanning 1966 to 1991. The first 13 years, July 1966 to October 1979, were carried by the 21st Composite Wing, called “composite” because of the several aircraft platforms used to conduct the wing’s three missions of air defense, airlift and search and rescue.

Then, on Oct. 1, 1979, the wing was re-designated as the 21st Tactical Fighter Wing and streamlined to once again conduct the mission of air defense. The wing served in this capacity at Elmendorf until inactivation on Dec. 19, 1991.

The wing’s second-longest station of service has been at Peterson AFB, Colorado, since 1992. Activated as the 21st SW on May 15, 1992, the unit transformed its past history of flying to become the world’s largest and most diverse military Space Wing.

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