MANSFIELD -- The Ohio Air National Guard’s 179th Airlift Wing at Mansfield-Lahm Airport is one of two national sites selected as possible locations for a new information warfare mission.
The U.S. Department of Defense notified Gov. Mike DeWine on Friday that the U.S. Air Force had selected Mansfield as a candidate location to host an Air National Guard Information Warfare (Cyber) Wing (IWW).
It's not known how such a move would impact the 179th's current mission, which uses C-130H aircraft to transport personnel and equipment, based at Mansfield Lahm Regional Airport.
“This is exciting news,” Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr., Ohio adjutant general and commander of the Ohio National Guard said in an email released Saturday.
“This potential new mission for the men and women of the Ohio Air National Guard would bring in-demand cybersecurity positions to the area. It would position us in the middle of the military’s cutting edge cyber capability and the fight against emerging cyber threats," Harris said.
The 179th Airlift Wing has has roots dating back 72 years in Mansfield, organized in 1948 as the 164th Fighter Squadron.
The Mansfield site is one of two being considered for the IWW, with the other being Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in Minnesota. The Air Force is expected to conduct site surveys at each of the two locations. The mission is planned to begin transitioning in 2022.
According to a story on the Air Force website in 2019, National Guard members are an integral element in the nation's cyber defense.
“When I first joined the National Guard, cyber was not part of our vocabulary,” then-Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, National Guard Bureau chief said in the story. “Now, it’s one of our daily battlegrounds.”
More than 3,900 troops make up the Guard’s cyber element, Lengyel said, adding that includes traditional part-time units as well as full-time units that work directly for U.S. Cyber Command.
“The Air National Guard always provides two (cyber protection teams), and on the Army side, the Army (National Guard) always provides one, that are continuously mobilized and doing duty for U.S. Cyber Command and the cyber mission force,” said Lengyel, who led the NGB until August 2020.
Guard cyber teams have also responded in support of local and state authorities.
The Guard’s ability to operate in the cyber domain is just another skill set Guard members bring to the fight, whether overseas or at home, Lengyel said.
“It’s the role of the men and women of the National Guard to be able to offer these kinds of services to our governors to respond to a domestic event,” he said. “Whether it’s a hurricane, a fire or a cyber event, it’s just another military skill set we can transfer into use.”
Stephanie Beougher, public information officer for the Ohio Adjutant General's Office, said Saturday any change in mission would not impact 179th's current mission "for the next several years."
"At this time, we don't know what is happening with the current mission," Beougher said, adding the Air Force may potentially reduce usage of the "H" model of the C-130, "though nothing is set in stone."
"This is exciting news, as the general said. The 179th is one of two sites and we don't know if it will be selected. We will have more information going forward on how this might impact the 179th. We just wanted to get this word out today," Beougher said.
In addition to military missions around the world, the 900-member 179th Airlift Wing participates in disaster relief efforts and other domestic emergencies as required.
The Ohio Air National Guard has seven main bases across the state located in Cincinnati, Columbus, Mansfield, Port Clinton, Springfield, Swanton and Zanesville, performing 13 unique missions. They train and prepare for a state/federal dual-mission, for the governor and also the U.S. president
The local military unit closed out its tactical fighter mission in 1976. At that time it was redesignated as a Tactical Airlift Group and equipped with eight C-130B aircraft.
The years 1990 and 1991 were another transitional period. The last C-130B model aircraft left the base on Nov. 30, 1990, to make way for the new C-130H "Hercules" models which came in April 1991.
In its history, the 179th has won many awards, decorations, and recognitions, including the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award; the Alan P. Tappan Memorial Trophy as the outstanding Air National Guard unit in the State of Ohio; and the Rusty Metcalf Award, which acknowledges the unit as one of the best in the entire Air Force.