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Celebrating Intel Unit's Anniversary
Photo courtesy of the 123rd Intelligence Squadron Master Sgt. Don Breshears dances with his guest, Margot Anthonisen, at the banquet.
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Celebrating 50 years of service

Posted 1/22/2008   Updated 1/22/2008 Email story   Print story


by Master Sgt. Bob Oldham
189th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

1/22/2008 - LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- For 50 years, the 123rd Intelligence Squadron has been analyzing and exploiting imagery products for the Defense Department and other governmental agencies. And while the technology has changed, the unit's Airmen still keep their trained eyes focused on the target. 

The unit, initially established in 1952 as the 118th Reconnaissance Technical Squadron at Adams Field in Little Rock, was renamed the 123rd Reconnaissance Technical Squadron 50 years ago. The unit could have celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2002 but most members were mobilized after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and couldn't make it back to Arkansas for a celebration. Officials chose to wait until this year to hold the celebration, marking 50 years with the 123rd designation. 

Initially, the unit supported RF-101 Voodoo aircraft from Louisville, Ky. Unit members operated a photo lab, according to retired Senior Master Sgt. Randall Cragg. He didn't join the unit until May 1969, but he's familiar with the history of the unit as it dated back to its origins. He retired from the military Dec. 31. 

When he joined, some unit members were overseas in response to the Pueblo Crisis. The crisis began Jan. 23, 1968, when North Korea took over the USS Pueblo in international waters off the North Korean coast. 123rd members were deployed to support the 154th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, and its fleet of RF-101s at Itazuke, Japan. 

The unit moved from Adams Field at Little Rock National Airport to its current post on Little Rock Air Force Base in 1987. 

Since then, technology has changed from 1990-era computers that used 5 ΒΌ inch floppy disks to the latest high-speed computers, Secure Internet Protocol Router Network connectivity and servers that store terabytes of information. One terabyte equals roughly one million megabytes. 

Unit members have also seen action in Operation Southern Watch, the enforcement of the no-fly zone over Southern Iraq, throughout the 1990s, Operation Noble Anvil, the air campaign over Kosovo in the late 1990s, and more recently Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and Jump Start, the president's mission to secure America's southern border with Mexico. Additionally, some unit members work counter-drug missions for law enforcement agencies. Operation Jump Start and counter-drug missions are conducted in Title 32 status as a member of the state's militia. Title 10 federal active-duty members are prohibited from participating in those types of missions because of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. 

Not too long ago, a plane would fly a mission of one or two hours and return to a deployed location. Technicians at the location would remove the film the plane and process it. Analysts would then review it and write an initial report. Three hours could easily elapse before an assessment was written and forwarded for review. 

Today, unit members analyze data in near real time and provide feedback in a matter of minutes to war fighters on the ground halfway around the world, all from the friendly confines of Little Rock Air Force Base. 

Roughly two-thirds of the 85-member unit are in the middle of one-year active-duty orders, said Lt. Col. Ken Temple, 123rd Intelligence Squadron commander. 

The colonel said he's proud of the way the unit has changed over the years and now more than ever reflects the local population. Years ago, the unit was all male and all white. Today, minorities and women make up 30 percent of the unit's all-volunteer force, with many in leadership positions. 

"The mission of the intelligence squadron isn't going to be going away anytime soon," said Brig. Gen. Riley Porter, Arkansas Air National Guard commander. "They have played a key role in our nation's defense for the past 50-plus years, and our dependence on them, and units like them, is only going to increase as the Air Force moves forward."

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