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Dirty Dozen Dismissed

By: Julio Barthson

Date Posted: 1999-11-13

Friday, November 5th 1999 was not a very jubilant day in the life of the US Air Force’s 18th Wing based on Kadena in Okinawa. On that day, noon was midnight for many as the famous 12th Fighter Squadron – most intimately known as the “Dirty Dozen” – was inactivated for good.

Lt. Col. Timothy “Tex” Merrell was the last Commander for the 12th FS. During a ceremony that was marked by the absence of smiles and cheers, the ace F-15 pilot “threw away” the flag of the squadron he had been leading for the past 17 months, in the presence of Col. Douglas Cochran, the 18th Wing Operations Group Commander. That ceremony symbolized the end of a famous tactical group within the US Air Force worldwide, a group that had had a history of 4 dozen decades and 10 years.

The 12th FS was first activated in 1941, and known then as the 12th Pursuit Squadron. After tasting combat action in the South Pacific in the 1940s, it was renamed the 12th Fighter-Bomber Squadron in January 1950. Six months later, it was deployed in Korea during the war. Immediately after the conflict on the Korean peninsula, the 12th acquired a home on Kadena from November to December, operating from the Yomitan Auxiliary Air Base. The it left for Clark Air Base in the Philippines in 1957, before returning on March 25, 1958.

Under the name 12th Tactical Fighter Squadron, it was deployed in Vietnam and Thailand in the 60s. In 1968, it stood alert in south Korea for six months after North Korea seised the USS Pueblo. Since 1980, it has kept the name it died with last Friday. It has taken part in several actions, made thousands of sorties to places as distant as Northern Iraq, from November 1998 to February 1999, as part of the United Nations efforts to protect the Kurds there. The 12th FS was last deployed from Kadena in October of this year, when it joined the Australian Defense Force in joint exercises known as Crocodile ’99.

In view of the squadron’s rich history, the amount of emotion that transpired from its inactivation is comprehensible. Lt. Col. Merrell covered those feelings with words of consolation: “As we stand down the 12th fighter Squadron at kadena here today, the fifth of November, 1999, we can take consolation in knowing that the unit is being reassigned,” he said. “Although most people and equipment of the 12th will remain here in the 18th Wing, the institution, the history and the memory of the Dirty Dozen will live on.”

However, uncertainty about the future still looms for many of the former squadrons devoted fighters. Col. Douglas Cochran had a word on that: “Any time we stand down a unit, especially one with such a rich heritage and long list of honorable accomplishments, it is a very difficult task,” the 18th Operations Group Commander said. “As we stand down the 12th FS, we are still not sure of its destiny. We are confident however, that it will find a new home and continue its traditional role of excellence in combat fighter aviation.”

Before the inactivation of the Dirty Dozen, the 18tgh Wing had 54 F-15 warplanes. The aircraft were divided into 3 groups of 18. Now that one squadron is gone, five of those F-15s will return to the United States, and one will remain on standby at kadena, while the remaining 48 will be managed under 2 new squadrons of 24 aircraft each.

Official sources at kadena all insist that the recent inactivation is a standard practice in the Air Force that has been going on since the end of the Cold War on several US bases worldwide. The main motivation is to achieve “the greatest efficiency out of the available resources,” Public Affairs Officer Hoey told Japan Update. He also said the inactivation has nothing to do with failure to attain recruitment targets. Nor were financial matters and constant discussions with Okinawa Prefecture authorities to reduce the American military presence on the island cited as reasons to end the 12th FS on Kadena.

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