ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE -- The 5th Combat Communications Group is celebrating a rare milestone this week.
With all of the downsizing and reorganization in the Air Force, it’s not very often that a unit lasts for a half-century with the same mission in the same location. But that’s what the 5th has done.
The group was established July 1, 1964, at Robins with just eight original members. They didn’t deploy as a unit to Vietnam, but individual members went.
Today there are 700 airmen serving in the organization, the only combat communications group in the Air Force.
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The group is commonly called the 5th Mob, a holdover from having been originally called the 5th Mobility Communications Group.
“To have a unit like ours that has been doing the same mission for 50 years is very unique and very unusual,” said Col. William Waynick, the outgoing commander of the group.
On Wednesday, the group’s open house included alumni who came back for a visit. Some top brass also were there, including Lt. Gen. Michael Basla, the Air Force’s chief of information dominance and chief information officer, and Maj. Gen. Kevin McLaughlin, commander of the 24th Air Force, the unit’s parent organization.
After getting a tour of the facilities and talking to many of the airmen about their jobs, Basla said the 5th Mob is vital to combat operations. It’s the only combat communications group in the Air Force.
“These are the folks who go out to the field first and make sure the war-fighters out there have the communications ability they need in order to do our nation’s bidding,” he said.
The group is usually the first into a combat area, and its job is to establish communications and set up airfields. It also was among the last troops out of the Iraq. The 5th Mob members also likely will be among the last out of Afghanistan.
“They have to send us in at the start of a contingency operation so that we can set up requirements for command and control and communications so that all of the other people out there can do their job,” Waynick said.
On Thursday, the 5th Mob is getting a new commander, Lt. Col. Keith Mueller, who is slated to become a colonel. Waynick has led the unit for the past two years.
Waynick said officials tried to get the unit’s original commander, Billy Millis, to Robins for the festivities. Millis, 93, lives in Texas and couldn’t make it, but he did the next best thing. He spoke to 5th Mob airmen via Skype.
“For 18-year-old airmen here to be able to have a connection with a colonel from 1964 that was in the Mob, and then alumni that are coming in here this week ... it’s amazing for them,” Waynick said.
One of the young troops Basla spoke with was Senior Airman Charles Macaraeg, an airfield systems technician who recently returned from Jordan.
“This was my first deployment, and it was pretty amazing,” he said.
Among the alumni making a return were retired sergeants Ronald Pope of Summerville and John McCord of Buena Vista. Both served in the 5th Mob from 1973-77. They said a lot of the equipment the unit uses today still looks a lot like what they used, but the base itself has definitely changed.
“It’s a lot different than it used to be,” he said. “The housing we lived in is not there anymore. There are very few buildings that where are they were originally.”
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.