167th to mark 50th

June 08, 1997


Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Had the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport not had one of the longest runways in the state, things could have been much different for the 167th Airlift Wing.

The local West Virginia Air National Guard base originally began as the 369th Fighter Squadron during World War II.

The unit was later deactivated on Nov. 10, 1945 and was redesignated as the 167th Fighter Squadron. The new unit was in Charleston, W.Va., but that posed a problem for military officials.

Air Guard officials wanted to fly F-86 "Sabre" jets at the base, but the airport in Charleston was not long enough for the fighter planes, officials said.


Military officials found just what they needed at the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport, off U.S. 11 near the community of Pikeside.

The 7,400 foot runway at the airport, one of the longest in the state, was big enough to accommodate the F-86, and the 167th was moved to Berkeley County, officials said.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 167th Airlift Wing, and next Saturday, officials at the base will hold an open house to allow the public to learn more about the role of the unit.

There will be C-130 aerial demonstrations, several aircraft displays, including a F-16 fighter jet, army paratroop jumps, classic car displays and military dog demonstrations. There will also be a dance Saturday night at the base, officials said.

Visitors to the base can still get a look at the jet that made the Air Guard's presence possible in Berkeley County.

About two years ago, an F-86 that was flown at the 167th was found at an abandoned airport near Peru, Ind., said Master Sgt. Bill Wolfinger. The jet had been painted gray and was vandalized by anti-war protesters during the Vietnam conflict, Wolfinger said.

"It was a horrible looking thing," he said.

The jet was shipped to the local base in pieces, where an extensive renovation of the aircraft was completed. The paint was stripped off the plane, exposing its nearly flawless body, and all the original decals were reapplied, Wolfinger said.

After the silver jet was finished, it was parked on a concrete pad just inside the entrance of the base off Paynes Ford Road. Blue runway lights surround the plane at night, making it seem as if the 13,000-pound fighter jet could hit the air at any moment.

"That's why we all have jobs," Wolfinger said looking at the plane. "It symbolizes a lot of things," said Wolfinger, who helped renovate the jet.

Today, the base's primary airplane is the C-130, the hulking transport plane that can be seen lumbering through the skies above Martinsburg.

The main duty of the 167th, which employs about 300 full-time and a little over 1,000 part-time workers, is to transport cargo and troops throughout the world. Troops from the local base are continuously making trips around the world to complete various missions, said Lt. Col. Roger Sencindiver.

Troops from the local base frequently fly to South America to give needed supplies to citizens or even drug intervention posts there, according to Sencindiver. The base gets its commands from the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C., Sencindiver said.

Back at the base, workers are busy meeting training requirements and other tasks. A wide variety of staff keep the base running, from cooks to the base's own fire department.

"It's just like a small city here," Sencindiver said.

Next Saturday's open house at the 167th Airlift Wing starts at 10 a.m. and is free to the public, Sencindiver said. The dance, which will feature the Rick K. and the Allnighters band, will cost $20 per couple.

Tickets can be purchased at the door or by calling 1-304-267-4841 or 1-304-267-5240.

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