NAVAL AIR STATION PENSACOLA, Fla. —
A charming green and yellow frog was the star of the show July 11 during a celebration that forged a new link between Air Force and Navy personnel aboard Naval Air Station Pensacola (NASP).
The joint operation involved excavating a time capsule buried in 1994 when the Navy disestablished Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 16 (HC-16), the "Bullfrogs." Members of the Air Force's 479th Flying Training Group (FTG) arranged the ceremony after uncovering the frog's secret.
More than 200 people, including NASP CO Capt. Keith Hoskins and 479th FTG CO Col. Thomas Shank, gathered in hangar at Forrest Sherman Field to do the honors, and it was announced that members of the 479th FTG plan to continue HC-16's time capsule tradition.
Hoskins hailed the celebration of military history and heritage, a subject that has special significance because of the yearlong celebration of the 100th anniversary of NAS Pensacola.
Shank said he is excited to be a part of the tradition that the Bullfrogs started 20 years ago.
"It is something I love about the military - traditions and heritage," he said. "It is what bonds our community. It truly does."
The connections created by a project like this are significant, Shank said.
"The most valuable thing about this is not what is in the time capsule, it is about the people who put it together," he said. "People are our most vital resource in the military."
Members of HC-16 who were present included retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Lee Wright, the first HCT-16 commander; retired Navy Capt. Dan Hansen, the squadron's last commander; and Capt. Mike Fisher, who is now Naval Aviation Schools Command executive officer.
Here is some background on how it all unfolded:
HC-16 was established in 1974 as the East Coast H-46 fleet readiness squadron, the H-1N fleet readiness squadron and the U.S. Navy search and rescue (SAR) school. It was also responsible for U.S. Coast Guard District 8 SAR responsibilities. Members provided search and rescue support for the NAS Pensacola training complex and carrier qualification operations until 1994.
Wright, who is 79 and lives in Navarre, remembers the squadron's beginning and its end.
"Not only was I here 40 years ago to start the squadron, I was invited to come back 20 years ago to bury the time capsule," he said.
Hansen explained that the 20-year deadline was set to match the amount of time that the squadron existed, and the frog was left behind to stand guard over the time capsule, which was buried near the old HC-16 hangar.
Lt. Col. Timothy Moser of the 479th FTG gets the credit for getting the ball rolling on the excavation project.
The HC-16 hangar is now occupied by the 455th Flying Training Squadron (FTS), and Moser said the frog caught his attention five years ago when he arrived at NASP. After walking by the frog for nearly a year, Moser took the time to read a timeworn plaque and learned that time capsule was supposed to be dug up in 2014. He did not expect to be at NASP that long, but as the deadline drew near he enlisted some help to contact members of HC-16.
"They got a hold of us through LinkedIn and Facebook," Hansen said, "and, somehow, here we are."
Moser, who is scheduled to leave next week for Ramstein Air Base in Germany, is glad he finally got to see what was inside the capsule.
"It is pretty amazing to still be around for this," he said. "I delayed my departure for this. I could not get that close and leave."
A musty smell filled the hangar as the time capsule was cracked opened, and the guests, including about 50 members of the old helicopter squadron, crowded around to view the contents. The capsule contained about 80 items ranging from official patches, awards, photographs, newspaper articles, videos and documents to personal items such as hats, T-shirts and a sonogram of the last child born while the squadron was still active. Following a toast and a cake cutting, the guests were invited to a reception at the Mustin Beach Club.
The mementos won't be above ground for long. The plan is to re-inter the HC-16 capsule along with a capsule being assembled by members of the 479th FTG.
The concrete frog that was a key player in the 2014 celebration will be back on guard duty for another 20 years. The date for the next opening is scheduled to be in July 2034.
The mission of the 479th FTG is to train Air Force combat systems officers (CSO) for commands including the 455th FTS, the 451st FTS and the 479th Operations Support Squadron (OSS).
For more news from the 479th FTG, go to https://www.facebook.com/479FTG