POPE AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. — The 23rd Fighter Group’s Flying Tigers will soon skirt the runways of Moody Air Force Base.

The group was welcomed to Moody’s 347th Rescue Wing Friday morning at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina. The realignment ceremony transferred operational control from the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour-Johnson AFB in North Carolina to Moody’s 347th Rescue Wing. The event is one of the first official changes resulting from the 2005 Department of Defense Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round that deemed Moody remove the 479th Flying Training Group — Air Education and Training Command (AETC) — and bring in the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft mission.

The slew of AETC aircraft, T-38C Talon and T-6A Texan II, are set to begin leaving Moody in Spring 2007, with the A-10 units beginning to filter in toward midpoint of that year. The wing will inactivate as the 347th and reactivate to the 23rd Wing on Oct. 1, retaining the Flying Tigers’ famed symbol of a shark’s teeth and eyes.

“This is part of the first steps where the 347th Wing will actually become the 23rd Wing, and this is a very procedural part of how we do business in the Air Force,” said Lt. Gen. Gary L. North, commander of the 9th Air Force and U.S. Central Command Air Forces at Shaw AFB, S.C.

Col. Joseph T. Callahan III, Moody base commander, said he accepts the responsibility to carry on the tradition of the Flying Tigers at Moody.

“Today’s ceremony marks the first phase in a transition that will see the eventual return of the 23rd Wing and return of the Flying Tigers as an operational combat wing in the United States Air Force,” Callahan said.

North said it’s “back to the future and back to the past” because the Air Force is standing the 23rd Wing up once again.

The Flying Tigers activated as an Army Air Forces unit on July 4, 1942, but began fighting the Japanese in World War II before the United States got involved in the conflict. The American Volunteer Group — a top secret civilian fighter unit and original Flying Tigers — picked dogfights with Japanese planes over the skies of China to protect China’s civilian population centers and lines of control. Under the leadership of Lt. Gen. Claire Chennault, the group used what little resources they had to fight the Japanese. Chennault is credited with painting the image of a shark’s teeth and eyes on P-40 Warhawks to let the Japanese know who they were fighting in the sky. The 23rd Group inherited the American Volunteer Group after they disbanded, taking with it the history and shark image. The image is still painted on the A-10 aircraft today. The 23rd Group converted from the Warhawk into the North American P-51 Mustang in 1943, and went through the Republic Aviation F-105 “Thunderchief” and LTV Vought A-7D Corsair II before transferring to the A-10 in December of 1980.

“We’re very proud of the history. They were fighting before the U.S. was involved in World War II in the Pacific, and we’re very excited to bring that history to Moody,” North said. “It’s an honor and a credit to the Air Force to ensure the future will have that heritage.”

Callahan said the core mission of the 23rd Fighter Group will not change.

“Today the 23rd Fighter Group is teamed with another group of professionals, the airmen who lead the combat search and rescue mission and the security specialists who protect us all,” Callahan said. “ It is an honor to accept the responsibility to carry on the legend of the Flying Tigers.”

The A-10s will work with Moody’s other combat search and rescue (CSAR) aircraft, the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter and the HC-130P/N Hercules aircraft, to provide joint-services ground support in wartime situations.

“Whether it be saving the life of a soldier or Marine on the ground, going outside the fence to protect the base, or killing the enemy with a well-placed Mark 82, every day we make a difference,” Callahan said.

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