Eglin hosts inactivation ceremony for 728th ACS

  • Published
  • By Chrissy Cuttita
  • Team Eglin Public Affairs
Eglin honors, bids farewell to 728 ACS,

The "Demon nation" is on the move again.

Since June 1994, the 728th Air Control Squadron "Demons" maintained a home next the 33rd Fighter Wing and now it is closing its doors, moving everyone and equipment to where the Air Force needs them.

During an official inactivation ceremony here May 17, their group commander led the covering of their squadron colors, its 27 combat streamers and a 62-year span of history. The remaining Airmen and equipment will be under a detachment of the 552nd Air Control Group at Tinker AFB, Okla. until the move from Eglin is complete.

"We'll ship out the last of the big equipment, process an incredible amount of administrative work and prepare to hand over our building," said Maj. Guy Wingenbach, Det. 1 commander, 552nd ACG. "It's amazing to see the legacy the Demons have. Until you walk into a controlled reporting center, you just can't describe it."

The 728th played a role in providing mobile radar surveillance and tracking in nearly every major Air Force operation. Initially, at Eglin, the Demons reported to the 33rd FW until they aligned with other CRCs to the 552nd ACG in May 2008.

Their mission forged bonds between Airmen of 26 different specialty codes, including in-house operators and maintainers. A family reunion atmosphere was represented at the ceremony where past and present commanders and other Demons reunited and recalled their memories.

"You can read about the squadron's history. But words on paper don't come close to capturing the blood, sweat and tears required to field an ACS," said Col. Alexander Koven, the 552nd ACG commander.At the height of U.S. military operations in the 1990s, there were 400 squadron members. Now, 240 are left to turn out the lights by the end of the year.

Time and time again the Demons kissed their families goodbye briefly. They left what is dearest to them behind to go defend them against something most of us never see. Every six months or so, the Demons would depart as a mass group for places overseas to set up 24/7 battle management for approximately half a year.

"ACS Airmen must be able to mobilize equipment, convoy into an austere location, create a base from scratch and then protect that encampment," said Koven. "Although everyone had a specialty, no one was immune from setting up tents, driving prime movers or defending the entry control point. The Demons were battlefield Airmen before the term became standard in the Air Force."

Through all its combat operations, one memory remains close to their hearts - tragedy on a 387-mile dangerous journey from Kuwait to Baghdad.

"It was during this convoy the squadron lost one of its warriors, Staff Sgt. Patrick Griffin, to an explosion when they stopped midway to their destination," said Koven. "Although disheartened by loss, the Demons continued the mission driving through the still active battlefield to the newly named Baghdad International Airport and established Camp Griffin."

A memorial stands as a lasting 728th ACS presence here.

The deployment cycle for the Demons has continued since 2003 with seven unit deployments completed and members still in Southwest Asia today.

"I found myself in a very special place," said Wingenbach about his arrival to the squadron during a time many were deployed. "It's a place where people knew their job well and they did it with pride."

Wingenbach remembers when he first met deployed members returning to the squadron. They went right into helping a local exercise, continuing 24-hour operations, but for a mission in their own neighborhood.

"Folks wanted to do the best job they could to support," he said. "When official words came out about the deactivation, you might think some of the drive would be lost, but you would be mistaken with this group. The official announcement brought a lot of emotions, but I never saw a loss of pride and I certainly didn't see a reduction in effort."

The 728th ACS began their history on Eglin's range as the 728th Tactical Control Squadron at Duke Field in December 1977. They joined the 33rd FW in May 1992, but didn't relocate until 1994. Squadron history dates back to 1950, lining them up to be first to bring game-changing radar to a newly established U.S. Air Force within its first decade.

"This does not mean the end of the 728th ACS or its legacy," said Koven. "The Demons on active duty will move to other squadrons where they can take the spirited skills they received here and apply them to new locations. Everyone else who is a part of the Demon nation - retirees, spouses, children and local community - can take pride in the fact they were associated with an amazing organization that made a difference in the defense of this nation."