The wing HO, Air Force history and you

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Airmen and leaders at all levels may not clearly understand what a historian does, why the Air Force considers history important and of what use Air Force History is to you. The following provides a general overview of a historian's Air-Force purpose.

To start, the office symbol of the history office is likely not going to change, though it may sound politically incorrect when used in conversation. The Air Force has maintained a formal program to document its history since 1942, and back then, the abbreviation for History Office just sounded the same as a gardening tool.

"Air Force historical products provide objective, accurate, descriptive and interpretive records of Air Force operations in peace and war. By recounting lessons learned, Air Force history enables our nation's military and civilian leaders to approach current problems and concerns more intelligently and professionally. Evaluation of past experience is of great value to planners and decision- makers in determining current policies and preparing for current and future contingencies. Knowledge of history is a significant factor in determining the success or failure of a particular policy, plan, or operation. Accurate and timely historical reporting provides decision makers with information they can use to improve the combat capability of the United States Air Force and the Department of Defense," states Air Force Instruction 84-101, Historical Products, Services and Requirements.

That is why the official history is important to the Air Force. But what does an Air Force historian do, and why is it important to you?

The AFI states history is a function of command. There are Air Force historians at every level of the Air force command structure, from wing to Air Force headquarters. For several years, the Air Force History Program has been converting active-duty historians to Federal civilian employees. Civilian historians deploy. More than 10 percent of all civilian historians are downrange today and every day. Air Force historians do the same things downrange that they do at home station; they write unit histories, they answer questions about Air Force and unit history, and they consult on historical artifacts and unit emblems, or patches. Historians have security clearances and 'need to know' so all relevant information is included in unit histories.

Your civilian historians' primary job is to record challenges and achievements by writing the unit history.

Each history office writes a periodic history covering a calendar year at home station and a calendar month when deployed. When signed by the commander, these reports become the official history of the unit. The official history is the only composite record of unit activities the Air Force maintains permanently; archived by the Air Force Historical Research Agency, at Maxwell Air Force Base.

Official histories rely on primary source documents and has extensive footnotes to show what source document provided each fact detailed in the history. Primary source documents can be electronic or hard-copy speeches, interviews, emails or other sorts of evidence written, created or otherwise produced during the time under study. Primary sources offer an inside view of a particular event. Secondary sources provide interpretation and analysis of primary sources.

An example would be of getting an award entered in a personnel file or an assumption of command. The award orders or command 'G-Series' orders are a primary source, and the certificate or newspaper article about the assumption of command ceremony is a secondary source. Primary source documents are essential to a complete and accurate history.

This is important because the unit history, as an official record, can offer proof a unit or person deployed, received an award or decoration, or that "Airman Smith" really was in the Air Force. The statistical data in the history is used by the air staff, Air War College students and, when declassified, by researchers from the public.

A typical 52nd FW Official History is about 200 pages long with appendices, and has thousands of source documents. The 52nd FW 2008 Periodic History Report, for instance, is a classified, 274-page document, with 11,240 supporting and source documents.

The unit histories may help you now: It can be useful to look at plans, after-action reviews and results from past inspections, evaluations or exercises that resemble those the base is preparing for now. The unit history may contain those documents. If your predecessors made them available to the historian of their day, it will contain those documents, and you can use them. For the same reason, if they did not make the documents available, then you will not find them in the histories.

The unit histories may help you in the future: Your children or spouse might be able to prove that you are eligible for veterans benefits such as health care because your name appears in an official history, even if forty years from now you have lost your Department of Defense Form 214 and other documentation. The official history contains 'proof' in the form of those primary source documents. The histories can help in assembling individual and unit award packages, and otherwise jog our memories of the recent past. The 52nd FW is a busy wing, and the history includes a chronology of what the wing did during the year.

The official history records the wing's collective service to the Air Force and the Nation. No matter how caught up in the minutia of day-to-day frustrations, inconveniences and difficulties, most people will someday will look back on service spent with pride. The official history should validate that pride and provide the facts and details behind our future memories.

So, "Feed the HO!" Ensure your civilian historian has the documents to record your service and your unit's accomplishments in the official history.

Mr. Rieders was the 52nd Fighter Wing Historian from October 2006 to August 2009. He wrote the Official 52nd FW Histories covering July 2004 through December 2008 and deployed as the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing lead historian from January to May 2008. His next assignment is as deputy director of the Air Force Reserve Command History Office at Robins Air Force Base, Ga.