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Other Views: Air Guard era ends with honor

The manned flying mission of the North Dakota Air National Guard's 119th Wing at Fargo might be history, but the legend, lore and unequaled record of the Happy Hooligans will not be forgotten. The last airplane assigned to the unit left the north Fargo base Aug. 27, ending 66 years of flying. And that airplane, a C-21A Learjet, the oldest of its kind in the country, will be retired to a museum.

In many respects, it was a sad day. But even amid sadness and nostalgia for a different time, the men and women who distinguished themselves as members of the Hooligans either as pilots or support teams can be proud of their roles as defenders of the nation.

No Guard unit has a better record. No unit has won as many flying and associated honors, even when in competition with the U.S. Air Force. No unit has been as dedicated and ready to take to the skies when the nation called. And no unit has been ready to adjust and retrain as the flying mission changed through the decades.

A case can be made that the new mission of the Air Guard is the future, while the old flying mission is the past. At this point, it appears the 1,000 personnel at the base will continue operating Predator drones and start preparing for a new mission as an intelligence gathering group. While the new role doesn't have the drama and romance associated with pilots and fighter jets, the drone and intelligence missions surely represent the new era in national defense. And if history is any guide, the men and women of the Fargo-based unit will excel in their new mandate.

Additionally, North Dakota Guard officials and others will continue to seek a flying mission for the Fargo base. That might be a thin hope, but it is peculiar that North Dakota is the only state without a manned Air Guard flying mission. That gap seems like more of a political failure rather than a wise national defense decision.

Whatever the future of the Fargo-based Air Guard, the past has been magnificent. No matter what's ahead, the dedication, competence and honor attached to the manned flight Hooligans can never be diminished and will not be forgotten. We salute them.