Northwest Military Blogs: McChord Flightline Chatter

December 12, 2016 at 2:31pm

Close Air Support Detachment operated at McChord for 25 years

In this 2015 photo, Close Air Support Detachment flight chief Master Sgt. Dave Knesek stands by a sign that once marked CAS Det 1, which operated at McChord Field from 1990 until 2015. Photo credit: Tech. Sgt. Paul Rider/Released

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For a quarter century, the Close Air Support Detachment at McChord Field hosted aircrews and maintained visiting aircraft from near and far. Its small team welcomed military personnel from the U.S. and abroad to the Pacific Northwest, aided with homeland security and counterdrug operations, and facilitated training for thousands of service men and women. Before the unit was deactivated late in 2015, the detachment consisted of a long-serving trio of Air Guardsmen: flight chief Master Sgt. Dave Knesek, aircraft supervisor Senior Master Sgt. John Kennedy, and ground support equipment supervisor Tech. Sgt. Stephen Werner.

On Jan. 8, 1990, the Air Force approved a Tactical Air Command proposal for a Close Air Support detachment to host Air Force fighter units and Army ground maneuver units. The detachment was to serve the northwestern U.S. "year-round, handling deployments up to three weeks in duration, and providing opportunities for realistic training exercises for the Army," TAC Commander Gen. Robert Russ wrote to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Larry D. Welch. "Aircraft, aircrews, support personnel and spares would be provided by the deploying unit and Active/ARC units from all services would be encouraged to participate."

CAS Detachment 1 was activated July 1, 1990, followed by the formation of the DET 1 Aircraft Generation Flight in February 1991 to provide maintenance services. "We owned every building you see north to south," Knesek said from the former CAS DET facility on the edge of McChord Field. "We were the lead group to get it going." BB Bredeson was the first DET superintendent, followed by Jim Phillips and John Kennedy, according to retired Lt. Col. Henry Bomhoff, who oversaw the CAS team from the Air Guard's Mission Support Group for several years.

DET 1 was responsible over the years for thousands of sorties. For its first five years, it averaged 1,250 sorties per year, according to a 1996 fact sheet.

There were repeated attempts through the early to mid-1990s to establish an A/OA-10 unit at McChord to support training needs for the Army and Army Guard, according to records provided by Knesek. Before that, in the late 1980s, the Washington Air National Guard had expanded its air support capabilities to include the 111th Air Support Operations Center, raising hopes among Guard leaders for a full A-10 unit, wrote Dan Voelpel in a 1988 article in the Tacoma News Tribune. The A-10 plans fell through, but the 111th continues to this day, and the CAS DET lasted until 2015.

Shortly after the launch of the CAS DET in 1991, Mount Pinotubo in the Philippines erupted, shutting down Clark Air Force Base on Luzon Island. Some military personnel and retirees who had been living or stationed in the Philippines made their way back to the U.S. via McChord, along with their pets. "Planes would land with crates of animals. Retirees signed in at the tower. For a few days we worked C-130s out of here with animals on board," said Knesek.

The CAS DET served A/OA-10 crews, as well as F-15 crews from the 142nd Fighter Wing in Portland and F-16 crews from the 162nd Fighter Wing in Tucson. "We had to stay current on all the airplanes," said Knesek. At Knesek's retirement Jan. 10, Lt. Col. Johan Deutscher, commander of the 194th Mission Support Group, described Knesek's "huge, huge passion for aviation."

Civilian agencies such as the FBI, Washington State Patrol, and counterdrug agencies also made use of the DET. "We did an amazing amount of counterdrug work," said Knesek.

Politicians and foreign militaries used the DET. "We had Al Gore recover on echo ramp. We had the Filipino Air Force train with us. We had German F4s come out to train," said Knesek.

Following the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001, the CAS DET stood up an alert facility. F-15s from the 142nd Fighter Wing in Portland were stationed at McChord for nine months, said Knesek.

Without the CAS DET, "we wouldn't have been able to protect the homeland the way we did after 9/11," said Deutscher.

Around 2009, the DET started working with special operations units, hosting the Marine Corps' MV-22 Osprey and the Army's OH-58 Kiowa, said Knesek.

Knesek, Kennedy and Werner took pride in serving whoever showed up at McChord, said Knesek. "Our motto since day one was whether you were a one-striper or a four-star, you'll be treated the same way," said Knesek. "I even bought lunch for a kid just out of basic training who was coming through."

"What really made Dave stand out was his care for the many troops who came into McChord," said Brig. Gen. John Tuohy, assistant adjutant general for the Washington Air National Guard, at Knesek's retirement Jan. 10.

Operating on a small budget, the CAS DET found ways to save money and maximize hospitality. "We saved the government millions of dollars," said Knesek. "Everything we had we found. We asked the marines coming in for toilet paper and they asked for printer toner," said Knesek. "We used to charge optional ‘landing fees' for end of deployment functions, like food. The F-16 guys from Texas made awesome tacos. We held barbeques in the alert bays."

The CAS DET team was flexible and took on unusual tasks. They turned a bread truck and trailer into a communications vehicle equipped with ultra-high frequency and very high frequency radios to communicate with fighter planes during the 1999 World Trade Organization riots in Seattle. When an F-16 blew a tire at Naval Air Station Whidbey, they went to make the repair.

"We had our one job with fifteen to twenty additional duties on top of it," said Knesek. "We did it with three people."

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