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Cannon Activation Was Last Major Cold War Call-up

Baltimore, Maryland -- The spring of 1968 was a busy time for the Maryland Air National Guard. The 175th Tactical Fighter Group - along with most of the rest of the Maryland National Guard - had just spent a difficult week in April putting down rioting in Baltimore sparked by the assassination of Martin Luther King when word arrived that they would called up in response to the Pueblo crisis.

The USS Pueblo, a U.S. Navy Banner-class electronic surveillance ship, had been seized in international waters by North Korea on Jan. 23. One member of Pueblo's crew was killed and 82 were captured. While the U.S. sought to resolve the crisis through diplomacy, it also began building up combat forces in case military action became necessary in Korea.

An initial mobilization of 9,343 ANG personnel from eight tactical fighter groups and three tactical reconnaissance groups had occurred Jan. 25. But with U.S. forces stretched by the February 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam, more units were needed, and Maryland got the call. This second mobilization included a total of 1,333 personnel from two tactical fighter groups and a medical evacuation unit.

Maryland's contribution included the headquarters, operations and maintenance functions of its 175th Tactical Fighter Group. Accordingly, on May 13, 1968, members of the group headquarters, the 104th Tactical Fighter Squadron and the 175th Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Squadron were activated. The initial indication was that the mobilization would be for a period of two years.

The units were to report to Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. By June 10 the group's 27 F-86H Sabrejet fighters and two T-33 trainers were in place at Cannon. The group's support equipment and personnel soon followed, with all but a small detachment who were preparing cargo in Maryland signing in at Cannon by June 20.

The start of flying operations was delayed as the Maryland unit could not move into its permanent buildings until Falcon '68, a program for introducing Tactical Air Command capabilities to new Air Force Academy cadets, was completed. During this time, some crews and aircraft were temporarily sent to George Air Force Base, Calif., to fly target dart-towing missions.

While at Cannon, the unit fell in under the Colorado ANG's 140th Tactical Fighter Wing, which in turn reported to the 832nd Air Division. This required significant organizational changes in the 175th, as maintenance and headquarters personnel were either incorporated into the 104th Tactical Fighter Squadron or reassigned to the wing headquarters, 4429th Combat Crew Training Squadron or the 4429th Field Maintenance Squadron. As part of this, Col. Jesse D. Mitchell, who had been 175th's group commander, was reassigned as deputy commander of the 140th Tactical Fighter Wing. Lt. Col. Joseph J. Maisch was appointed commander of the 104th Tactical Fighter Squadron.

With this shifting of personnel, the 104th found itself significantly understrength. As a result, personnel drawn from the Air National Guards of Colorado and Iowa, and later the regular Air Force, augmented the squadron.

The 104th's mission at Cannon was to train Air Force Forward Air Controllers to direct fighter pilots during ground attack missions. The Air Force considered it essential that FACs have fighter experience so they could understand how fighters operate and thereby be more effective in guiding them to ground targets. Twin-seat T-33s were to be used for initial flight training, before transitioning students into single-seat F-86s. To meet the anticipated need for aircraft, the unit was augmented with additional T-33s after arriving at Cannon.

At the time, Maryland and New York were the only units in the Air Force still flying the F-86, the upshot of which was that incoming students would not only have to be trained to act as FACs, but would have to learn to fly the F-86 as well. This required that every pilot in the unit be upgraded to instructor pilot, necessitating an intensive period of training that kicked off the week of July 8.

By the time the first group of seven students arrived in October, the unit was ready to go, but on Nov. 1 the Air Force cancelled the mission. Later that month the 175th learned that it would return to Baltimore and be demobilized Dec. 20.

Ultimately, only two fighter squadrons would be deployed to Korea, where they would serve until the crew of the Pueblo was released. Of the other mobilized units, the 175th from Baltimore and the 174th from Syracuse served at Cannon.

While the Cannon activation is merely a footnote in the larger history of the U.S. Air Force, it was significant in that it was the first time the now-ubiquitous "ops and maintenance package" approach to mobilization was used. The success of this approach is evident today in the Air Force's expeditionary approach to unit deployments.

The Cannon activation wasn't without problems - unit members had difficulty in finding housing on base or in nearby Clovis, N.M., for example - it can be counted as an overall success. Not only did the unit perform above expectations, but it did so while maintaining high morale and esprit de corps.