107th in Niagara Falls gets new name, new mission as Attack Wing
A renaming ceremony was held Tuesday afternoon at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station for one of the two units that call the base home. What was previously known as the 107th Airlift Wing is now officially the 107th Attack Wing.
The 107th Attack Wing, first established in 1948, previously served as an air combat unit and flew aircraft including P-51 Mustangs, F-100 Supersabres, and F-16 Falcons, just to name a few. Then in 1994, its role shifted to air refueling and later airlift, complementing the work of the 914th Airlift Wing.
In 2012, the Pentagon decided to move drone aircraft operations to Niagara Falls and set the wheels in motion for a gradual transition of the 107th's mission. Now formally an Attack Wing, the 107th will fly MQ-9 Reapers, remote-controlled aircraft with wingspans of 66 feet and a top speed of 300 miles per hour.
Colonel Robert Kilgore is Wing Commander and says the new designation has re-energized the unit.
"It really shows what we're doing, that we're making a contribution and that's pretty important to us," he said. "We're taking part in Enduring Freedom, Resolute (Support), Inherent Resolve. Being part of those operations that everybody is seeing on the news, every day right now is pretty exciting for us."
Staff Sergeant Stephanie Bowman has been a member of the 107th for about five years. A Niagara Falls native and recent college graduate, says she appreciates being able to report to her hometown base while pursuing college studies, which she completed last year. When she first enlisted, she felt less certain about her future as well as that of the base.
"There's a vibe going around today. Everyone's pretty excited," she said. "Once we stand up our first line as the 107th Attack Wing, we're just going to grow and become closer unit, and even more family-like."
Being involved in combat operations abroad while working from the relative comfort of the hometown base could prove to be useful in the recruiting process, Col. Kilgore believes.
He also recognizes the opposition to the combat drone mission by some.
"I think if you understand what we're doing, the combat air power we're providing to our commanders downrange, you realize how vital it is," he said. "The people exercising their First Amendment rights out there, I'm all for it. That's part of what I signed up to do and defend and I applaud them for it. I just hope in the course of them exercising their rights, they don't interfere with my folks trying to do their jobs as well. That's the important part for me."
Between the 107th's new designation and the recent return of KC-135 Stratotankers to the 914th Airlift Unit, Niagara Military Affairs Council chairman John Cooper has stronger faith in the long-term stability of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, which is Niagara County's largest employer.
"One of our goals all along is to have enduring missions here at this base, something with a future," Cooper said. "Both missions here now and both wings are very enduring missions."