The 176th Wing is the largest unit of the Alaska Air National Guard. It is a composite wing — meaning a wing which operates more than one type of aircraft — operating out of Kulis Air National Guard Base in Anchorage, Alaska. It consists of an airlift squadron, a complete pararescue package and the 176th Air Control Squadron, which supports the Alaska NORAD Region with around-the-clock operations and maintenance.
As one of the largest and most complex wings in the Air National Guard, the 176th Wing has several operational missions:
1. Tactical airlift. This is accomplished through the eight C-130H Hercules aircraft of the 144th Airlift Squadron.
2. Strategic airlift. The wing's newly created 249th Airlift Squadron is in what is called a "classic association" with the U.S. Air Force's 517th Airlift Squadron. The Air Force owns the airframes -- eight C-17 Globemaster III cargo jets -- which are flown by mixed aircrews comprising individuals from the 249th and the 517th.
3. Combat search and rescue. This is accomplished through three rescue squadrons: The 210th, which flies six HH-60G Pave Hawk Helicopters (highly modified versions of the UH-60 Blackhawk specialized for Search & Rescue); made up of pararescuers (often called "PJs"); the 211th, which flies four HC-130s specially equipped for search-and-rescue and aerial refueling missions; and the 212th, made up of enlisted pararescuemen (called PJs) who are airborne, freefall, scuba, and high angle rescue trained specialists. The 212th also has COmbat Rescue Officers (known as CROs)
4. Aerospace defense. This function is performed by the 176th Air Control Squadron, based on Elmendorf Air Force Base.
5. Search and rescue coordination. The wing's 11th Rescue Coordination Center (also known as the Alaska RCC) serves as the hub of Alaska's search-and-rescue (SAR) activities both military and civilian. It coordinates not only the SAR assets of the Alaska Air National Guard, but also assets belonging to the Alaska State Troopers, the U.S. Coast Guard, National Park Service, Civil Air Patrol (CAP), Alaska Army National Guard, and other active duty military.
The federal government authorized and recognized the 8144th Air Base Squadron on Sept. 15, 1952. At its creation the 8144th included 11 enlisted men, five officers (including Col. Lars Johnson, who shortly thereafter separated from the Army National Guard to accept a commission in the Air National Guard and simultaneous appointment as its commander and adjutant general), and no planes. Its headquarters were located in a small office above what was then a bus depot on Anchorage's Fourth Avenue.
Their first aircraft, a T-6G “Texan” trainer, arrived in February 1953. Soon five more trainers arrived, operating out of Elmendorf’s Hanger #3. In keeping with the Air Guard’s mission to provide national air defense, the pilots began training for their planned transition to jet fighters.
The unit was re-designated the 144th Fighter-Bomber Squadron in July 1953. The first jet, a T-33A trainer, arrived in October, shortly followed by F-80C “Shooting Star” jet fighters. By late Fall of 1954 the growing unit was fully equipped with 14 F-80s, two T-33s, three T-6G trainers, two T-6 observation planes and a C-47A “Gooney Bird” transport.
In the spring of 1955, the Alaska Air National Guard moved out of Elmendorf Air Force Base and onto its new base near what was then called Anchorage International Airport. The base was dedicated in honor of 1st Lt. Albert Kulis, who had died in a training accident the previous November.
In 1955 the 144th’s F-80s were exchanged for brand-new, top-of-the-line F-86 “Sabre” fighter jets. Along with new aircraft came the unit’s third designation in as many years, this time the 144th Fighter Interceptor Squadron.
That designation also proved short-lived. A decision was made at the national level to shift the Air Guard’s emphasis from air combat to airlift, and the newly rechristened 144th Transportation Squadron (Light) turned in its Sabres for C-47 “Gooney Birds” in 1957.
In 1960 the Alaska Air National Guard’s C-47s were replaced by C-123J Providers. The squadron’s “light” designation was upgraded to “medium.”
In 1964, the squadron provided disaster relief and communications capabilities in response to the Good Friday Earthquake and a major flood in Fairbanks. Both episodes would earn the squadron separate Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards.
By the end of the decade, it was becoming obvious that the Alaska Air National Guard was outgrowing its single-squadron status. Laying the groundwork for future expansion, the organization was officially redesignated the 176th Tactical Airlift Group in 1969. The Group retained the 144th Tactical Airlift Squadron as its flying unit.