Here Since the Beginning

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Victoria Nelson
  • 157th Air Refueling Wing

In the late '80s, Pease Tradeport was a bustling active-duty base for the 509th Bomb Wing. More than thirty years later, five Airmen once working alongside the bombers are serving in the 157th Air Refueling Wing.

“The base was busy all the time,” said Master Sgt. Alan Roma, a member of the 157th Civil Engineer Squadron and a former defender with the 509th Security Police Squadron in 1986. “When the 509th was here it was more like a town. We didn’t leave the base at the end of the day, and you always saw people you knew at the BX, commissary, barber shop and so on. We worked together and lived together so we were closer back then.”

The 509th moved to Pease from Walker Air Force Base in the summer of 1958 with the B-52 Stratofortress. In the years following, the unit transitioned to the FB-111 Aardvark and the KC-135 Stratotanker.

Chief Master Sgt. Frederick Balas, the chief enlisted manager with the 157th Communications Flight, and Chief Master Sgt. Jeffery Trudeau, the 157th Mission Support Group senior enlisted leader, met in 1988 while serving on active duty together in the Fuels Flight.

“When I came to Pease in ’88, they were able to smoke in the buildings, so Fred was smoking and wearing his blues in the back room,” Trudeau laughed. “Now, when Fred and I walk into a room, we look at each other and think, ‘what are the odds?’”

“I never envisioned I’d be back to Pease,” he recalled. “I wasn’t married and had no idea what my life was going to be. To turn around and end up back here is just crazy. There is so much history, so many years have gone by, and Fred and I are here, in the same senior staff meeting, stationed at Pease.”

In 1988 Strategic Air Command announced that all FB-111As would transfer to Tactical Air Command.

“The 509th would only have KC-135 tankers so officials planned to rename it as an Air Refueling Wing,” said Dee Gullickson, the wing historian for the 509th BW. “On Nov. 30, 1988, SAC announced the 509th would transfer to Whiteman AFB, Missouri.”

The final FB-111 departed Pease on Sept. 5, 1990. The Airmen left for other duty stations and the part of Pease Air Force Base that remained under military control was transferred to the New Hampshire Air National Guard and renamed Pease Air National Guard Base.

Balas was one of the final members on the installation. He was scheduled to transfer to Beale Air Force Base after Pease closed.

“I had orders to leave but I wanted to stay in New Hampshire,” he laughed. “I applied for a full-time position in the Guard, and I got it. One day I was driving onto the base active duty and the next I was a Guardsman.”

“I watched everyone leave one by one,” he added. “It was eerie, the base felt deserted. One morning I drove through the gate and saw a moose in the middle of the road! It felt like being in a sci-fi movie when there’s no one left on the planet.”

Chief Master Sgt. Kimberly Urice, the 157th Medical Group senior enlisted leader, agreed. Urice worked in the 509th Finance Squadron in 1990. After enlisting in the NHANG during the base closure, she was the last to lock the finance doors and drive all the records and system network reals to their new home at Plattsburg AFB in 1991.

“It was pretty somber driving on the old base,” said Urice. “It really hit home when they tore down the supersized flagpole at the main entrance.”

The Guard continued to grow in numbers and accomplish larger missions with each passing year. The young buck sergeants who began their careers with the 509th became leaders across the installation.

“There were 49 Guardsmen supporting the base mission in 1990,” said Gullickson.

In 2023, there are nearly 1,000 traditional Airmen building on their legacy. The service members now support the KC-46 Pegasus, the Air Force’s most modern refueling tanker and work alongside active-duty members of the 64th Air Refueling Squadron.

“Whiteman AFB is still home to roughly 3,800 of those assigned to the 509th BW and is now a total force installation with the Missouri ANG 131st BW,” Gullickson said. “Since moving to Whiteman, the unit has flown combat missions in Allied Force 1999, Enduring Freedom 2001, Iraqi Freedom 2003, Odyssey Dawn 2001 and Odyssey Lightning 2011.”

“We are also one of three wings selected to receive the new B-21 Raider when it becomes available,” she added.

Thousands of Airmen have left their mark in Pease’ history since the beginning. The total force here today continues to stand on their foundations and accelerate change for the future of aerial refueling.

“It was sad watching everyone go,” remembered Urice. “As for the people and mission though, nothing changed. Rather the New Hampshire Air National Guard stepped up their game and turned our little footprint into something truly exceptional.”