Coraopolis, Pa. --
Symbolism is ever present in our society as Americans and longstanding within the military ranks. We use symbolism to represent our freedom with images of the Statue of Liberty and the American bald eagle. We pay homage to those who came before us with flags at almost every formal event to remind us of the great sacrifices made. Symbols are everywhere representing a little piece of the past, but we may not always know the story behind the symbols standing before us.
The 171st Air Refueling Wing has such symbols hanging from their organizational flags. You may have seen them dangling from the guidon wondering what meaning each holds. These bits of cloth are called campaign streamers. They are decorations attached to military flags to acknowledge specific achievements or events of a military unit. Each streamer usually is inscribed with a year or date and states the name of a particular battle or theater of war. The streamers awarded to Air Force units are equivalent to campaign medals given to individual airmen for contributions to operations. Because the meaning behind receiving them is the same, the colors of the streamers match the original medal.
Streamers at the 171st date back as early as 1941 when the United States entered World War II. The earliest awarded were to the base’s 146th Air Refueling Squadron and 147th Air Refueling Squadron when their service was recognized in support of the European-African-Middle Eastern Theater from 1941-1943. There’s also the Algeria-French Morocco of 1942, Tunisia Air, Naples-Foggia of 1943, Sicily Air of 1943, Rome-Arno, Southern France of 1944, North Apennines of 1944 and PO Valley of 1945.
Then there is the Republic Vietnam Gallantry Cross awarded for service from April of 1966 to June of 1967 for providing support to south Vietnam. The ribbons continue to span into the nineties for Defense of Saudi Arabia from 1990-1991, Liberation and Defense of Kuwait in 1991, and also the Southwest Asia Cease-Fire.
In addition to these remembrances of acts of valor and bravery, bases may also be awarded streamers for superior service at home. The 171st has four Air Force Outstanding Unit awards and three Governor Unit Citations.
In total, between squadrons and the wing, the 171st has 20 streamers. These streamers are a bit of history serving as symbols. They will help us remember the sacrifice, bravery and patriotism of our predecessors. They serve as reminders of our past as we remain committed to our mission in the present. They remind us of the fabric of our nation as our story continues to unfold.