Air Force History : More than just Heritage

  • Published
  • By Glenn S. Robertson
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs

When most Airmen are asked about what a wing history office does, the answers tend to fall into a single general category: they’re the ones who must know everything about where the units came from.

They’re partially correct, says 90th Missile Wing historian Jeremiah Foster, and that heritage aspect is a major function of the job, though not the only one.

“The way Air Force history offices are designed is in two major components - a history side and a heritage side,” said Foster. “The heritage side is largely what we can see and the lineage. For example, we’re the 90th Missile Wing and our name comes from the 90th Heavy Bombardment Group in World War II, so we have a shared lineage meant to instill a sense of pride and esprit de corps in the unit.”

Yet, he cautions against thinking that being keepers of the collective heritage of the wing is their primary responsibility, stating that the history side of their role serves a far more important purpose.

“History office, from the wing all the way to big Air Force, are designed to be the institutional memory of the unit, the keepers of all the records and all the collective knowledge of the organization,” said Foster. “Most records are kept for a finite period, and for the most part, much of that is temporary and disappears over time. That’s where the function of the history office comes in to capture those things, take them, combine them and then put them somewhere where they will always be available.”

The maintenance of that institutional memory is a responsibility that can pay dividends and that reality has been made clear with the coming installation of the Sentinel weapon system.

“The 90th has been chosen to field the next era of ICBMs, a working group has been assembled, they’re doing the initial stages of this and they’re asking a lot of questions pertinent to what we’ve done in the past,” said Foster. “So, I go to all of the working groups and I try to be an active member in trying to both document their efforts and inform their decision making, by pointing out where we’ve done this before, and this is how we dealt with it.”

Those questions are driving one of the larger projects he’s spearheading in light of Sentinel.

“Drawing on the research of James Mesco, who was the wing historian for the 90th in the 1980s, I have written a study for the wing about the deployment of the Peacekeeper system at F.E. Warren, because that is the most similar and relevant missile fielding experience to what we're doing now,” said Foster. “Just like then, we're keeping our current Minuteman III system online, but we're also trying to replace those weapons with this one. There are a lot of lessons that we learned in that process that are very relevant and applicable to what we're doing now.”

Another project of sorts that Foster is working on is intimately connected to that true purpose of the history office.

“One thing I hope to accomplish is to help make a history office that is relevant and that leaders are using – a well-oiled machine that aids wing operations by providing the information and the documents our leaders need when they need them,” said Foster. “But I also want to be doing everything I can to show the units how they can utilize that history, institutional memory and knowledge.”

However, accomplishing that goal can be a challenge due to the transient nature of military service.

“It’s a relationship building project that takes a long time and it can be challenging, because the military has people rotating in and out all the time, particularly those in uniform and in command positions,” said Foster.

While there are challenges in showing that value, Foster and other historians continue to chronicle current events as they happen, so that in the future, Air Force leaders can look back upon the repositories of information created by the history office for advice on how they might proceed in a challenging future situation. Additionally, though heritage and the morale created from it is an important aspect of the historian’s position, history provides much more than that to leaders who seek out the lessons of the past to guide their decisions.

“If you ask the broader question of why history is important in general, many people just think of it as a bunch of dates and facts, but it’s so much more than that,” said Foster. “It’s more about knowing and remembering who you are and what you’re a part of. It orients us to the world and provides us with the knowledge we need to navigate it—that is the power of history.”