Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Georgia Air National Guard Airmen Mobilize to France for NATO Mission


By Maj. William Carraway

Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

When France withdrew from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1966, President Charles De Gaulle ordered all military installations in France be removed by March 31, 1967.[1] This deadline created an urgent need for U.S. personnel to assist in the dismantling and transport of military infrastructure. Georgia Air National Guard Airmen of the Macon-based 202nd Ground Electronics Engineering and Installation Agency volunteered to assist with the herculean effort which was dubbed Operation Fast Race. The 202nd GEEIA was among 17 National Guard units from 13 states sent to France.[2]

The 202nd was organized in October 1952 as the 8226th Air Base Squadron and reorganized as the 202nd Communications Maintenance Squadron later that year. The 202nd was again reorganized as the 202nd GEEIA in November 1966 and within days of the reorganization its Airmen were mobilizing to France.[3]

Lt. Coll. George Smith (right), commander of the 202nd GEEIA bids good luck to Airmen of the 202nd bound for France in 1967. Georgia Guard archives.
The first group of seven airmen departed November 16, 1966 arriving at Etain Air Base and Phalsbourg Air Base in France. A follow-on group celebrated Thanksgiving en route to France. By the middle of January, Georgia Air National Guardsmen had constituted three additional mobilizations to support efforts in Chambley, Chaumont and other air traffic control facilities. Lt. Col. Paul Kerr of the Oklahoma Air National Guard served as the project chief for the operation.

The Airmen of the 202nd labored to remove electronic equipment from multiple military installations in France. Among the more challenging efforts was the disassembly of more 20 separate microwave sites in Northern France which had been used as communication relays between bases throughout the country.

The deputy commander of U. S. European Command, Gen. D. A. Burchinal, praised the efforts of the National Guard personnel.

“The responsiveness of the Guard personnel in adapting to the demanding environment of our accelerated withdrawal and the professionalism demonstrated by these men deserve the highest credit,” said Gen. Burchinal.[4]

Major General George Hearn, Georgia’s Adjutant General also praised the multi-state Air National Guard effort.

“Operation Fast Race brought the Air National Guard’s communication role to the public’s attention as never before,” said Hearn. “…and demonstrated conclusively that Air Guardsmen can be depended upon to contribute far beyond their normal service when emergencies arrive.”[5]

The 202nd continues in service in the Georgia Air National Guard today as the 202nd Engineering Installation Squadron.

[1] “202nd Airmen Volunteer for Duty in France to Remove US NATO Gear.” The Georgia Guardsman, January 1967, 7.

[3] William E. Ridley. Georgia Air National Guard History, 1941-2000. (Charlotte, N.C.: Fine Books, 2000), 301.

[4] Macon’s 202nd GEEIA Sqdn Cited for ‘Fast Race’ Role.” 11.

[5] Macon’s 202nd GEEIA Sqdn Cited for ‘Fast Race’ Role.” 11.

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