Gowen Field, headquarters of the Idaho National Guard, represents a tradition of voluntary military service dating back to 1889, a year before Idaho was admitted to the United States.
“We’ve served in support of the Spanish-American War in 1898,” spokesman Maj. Chris Borders said, “through the Mexican border crisis, World War I, World War II, Korea, the Berlin Airlift, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq and most recently, throughout Southwest Asia in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.”
Then there’s more than a century of responding to floods, fires, heavy snow and other state and local emergencies.
Guardsmen are doctors, lawyers, mechanics, police officers and food service workers.
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“The men and women of the Idaho Army and Air National Guard are real pros,” said Dale Hendry, a self-described “rock farmer from Nampa” who spent 39 years with the Air Guard. “They’re a very valuable resource to our nation.”
So with or without the F-35, officials are confident Gowen Field’s air mission will continue.
“The Idaho Air National Guard has had a flying mission for 70 years, and our long-term plan is to continue a flying mission,” Borders said.
The Idaho Guard traces its lineage back to the Governor’s Guards, proposed by a group of men from Boise who approached Gov. Edward A. Stevenson. At the time, the Idaho Territory had no permanent militia, according to James Hawley’s 1920 “History of Idaho.”
In March 1889, Stevenson wrote the Army to let it know a company had formed, consisting of three officers, 43 enlisted men and a “good band.” By the time Idaho became a state on July 3, 1890, six militia companies were based in Boise, Weiser, Grangeville, Albion, Hailey and Eagle Rock, now known as Idaho Falls.
On March 14, 1891, Gov. Norman Willey signed a law establishing the Idaho National Guard. The existing companies organized into the First Idaho Regiment.
Guard members served in America’s war with the Philippines in 1899. Under the newly passed Selective Draft Law, they were brought into the Army to fight in World War I.
The Idaho Air National Guard was formed in 1946, starting with 44 enlisted men — each paid $10 a month — and 23 officers. Their commander was Lt. Col. Thomas Lanphier, who flew with the Army during World War II and, along with a Navy pilot, shot down a plane carrying the commander-in-chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy in April 1943.
The Air Guard met one night a week in a small building on Fort Street in Downtown Boise.
“They had nothing. No airplanes, no buildings. No money. Not even an airfield. But they had determination and skills and hope,” Col. W.D. Bozeman, one of the founding members, said in an online history.
Its building situation improved the following year when it moved into Gowen Field — formerly a World War II training ground for Army Air Corps crews flying B-18 and B-26 bombers. The War Department turned over the 2,000 acres of land and hundreds of buildings to the city of Boise after the war’s end.
The base had held the Gowen name since 1941, honoring Caldwell native Paul Gowen, an Army pilot killed when a bomber engine failed soon after takeoff in Panama in July 1938.
The first plane flown by Idaho Air Guard pilots was the North American Aviation P-51 Mustang, a medium-altitude fighter that also excelled in strafing runs and long-range escort duty. In 1950, the Mustang and its pilots were called to active duty, replacing Air Force units fighting in Korea.
Three years later, the Mustang was replaced by a jet aircraft, the F-86A Sabre, also manufactured by North American Aviation, later obtained by Rockwell and eventually by Boeing. It was the first swept-wing fighter, with wings that sat at an angle to reduce shock waves and drag.
The Idaho Air Guard changed planes four times over the next 23 years. It went from the F-94 Starfire to the F-89 Scorpion, a retooled F-86L Sabre and the F-102 Delta Dagger.
In 1975, Air Guard pilots began flying the F-4 Phantom II jet. The first Phantoms were unarmed and carried high-resolution cameras and sensors that proved invaluable in tracking flooding following the June 5, 1976, collapse of the Teton Dam in Eastern Idaho.
They were also used to assess damage after the magnitude-6.9 Borah Peak earthquake that struck near Challis in 1983.
In 1991, the Phantom was replaced by the F-4G Wild Weasel fighter. Idaho Air Guard pilots used the F-4G to enforce the no-fly zone in southern Iraq during two tours in 1993. Later, pilots served two deployments enforcing the no-fly zone in northern Iraq and protecting Kurdish people from Iraqi aggression. Crews also spent more than a year in the Persian Gulf between 1993 and 1995.
In 1995, Gowen traded the Wild Weasels for the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the C-130 Hercules transport plane. While the C-130 left in 2009, the A-10 remains the Air Guard’s primary workhorse today.
The A-10, affectionately known as the Warthog, has flown numerous overseas missions since 1999 in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year, A-10s were used in the Middle East in the fight against the Islamic State.
Gowen — with more than 2,800 full-time and part-time Guard members and civilians employed on base — is also a vital center for Idaho’s Army Guard.
The 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team is scattered across the state, but is coordinated from the Boise base. And the Army Guard has had an air presence at Gowen since at least the early 1950s, when it started flying the L-19 Bird Dog observation plane and the H-23 Raven helicopter.
For more than 20 years, the Army Guard has used a fleet of Black Hawk helicopters and, until 2016, Apache helicopters to respond to emergencies within the state and for military missions in the Middle East.
Last month, a Black Hawk was sent to Weiser to assess damage and to help rescue a man whose house was flooded by the Weiser River running over its banks.
Correction: This story has been corrected to indicate that the P-51 Mustang and the F-86- Sabre planes were manufactured by North American Aviation, rather than Boeing. Boeing did not obtain the company until several decades later.