Honoring Courage and Commitment of Airmen Past and Present

  • Published
  • By Col. Christopher Bromen
  • 423 Air Base Group

The Air Force brought unit patches back to the Air Force operational camouflage pattern (OCP) to further elevate our focus on honoring the heritage of squadrons as the war-fighting units of the world’s greatest Air Force.   Our senior leaders nailed it with this decision!  Over the past few months we converted the 423d Air Base Group emblem into an OCP patch and, in the process, discovered some amazing history that connects us to the British and American Airmen who occupied and fought from our installations during WWII.  I was already proud to be part of the 423d Air Base Group, but after learning more about our heritage, including the origins of our motto of Courage and Commitment, my pride is at an all-time high! 

Official records tell us the 423d Air Base Group was established in 2005.  Under a broader USAFE realignment the former host unit at RAF Molesworth, the 423d Air Base Squadron, was redesignated as a group and with its headquarters relocated to RAF Alconbury.  The dominant symbol on our emblem is a knight on horseback, which according to the Air Force Historical Research Agency signifies an Airman’s journey through life and the unit’s courage.  The other symbol is the triangle, which signifies strength and the group’s ability to coordinate changing needs.   The official records on the Group’s lineage and emblem ends here, but a little bit of research revealed there is much more below the surface.

I believe the triangle on our emblem is also a connection to the 303d Bomb Group that was assigned to RAF Molesworth in WWII, and whose B-17s used this triangle as their tail marking.  The official registry does not reflect this connection, but in the context of other research, symbols from other units have endured through history.  For example, the square D was the tail marking on B-17s of the 100th Bomb Group.  The square D is still associated with RAF Mildenhall, whose 100th Air Refueling Wing evolved from the 100th Bomb Group.  It is unlikely that our triangle is not related to those of the B-17s from RAF Molesworth’s 303d Bomb Group.     

Our motto, Courage and Commitment, was described in a pamphlet created by Col Jack L. Jones, the first commander of the 423 ABG.  The motto was inspired by two Medal of Honor recipients from the 303d Bomb Group at RAF Molesworth during WWII, TSgt Forrest L. Vosler, a B-17 radio operator, and Lt Jack W. Mathis, a bombardier.  Both of these Airmen displayed exceptional courage during combat and contributed to a victory that changed the course of history.  That they lived and served in the very space we do today is both humbling and motivating.

Many other Airmen who served at Molesworth and Alconbury gave the ultimate sacrifice, yet never rose to fame.  One of those Airmen is Lieutenant William F. Drew, whom I know of only because I walked by his grave at the Cambridge American Cemetery, and took note that he was a member of RAF Molesworth’s 303d Bomb Group.  Through some additional research I discovered that on 9 November 1943 Lt Drew was flying on his 29th combat mission as a bombardier on a B-17.  The aircraft collided with another bomber shortly after takeoff; only one crew member between the two aircraft survived  (American Air Museum in Britain, n.d.). Losses such as this were common.  Mechanical problems, bad weather and early technology made flying on B-17s a dangerous endeavor.  Anyone who did it had to be courageous.

I am proud to be in the long line of Airmen to serve in the same place as heroes like TSgt Vosler, Lieutenant Mathis, Lieutenant Drew, and thousands of other Airmen whose names we might not know.   Airmen assigned to the bomber crews in WWII displayed Courage and Commitment in the face of physical danger each time they went up into the sky.  Most of us who serve today do not have to put our life on the line every day like these Airmen did, but our profession still requires courage and commitment.  We might need courage to face physical danger or to do the right thing in a difficult situation.    We need commitment also.  It might mean being committed to a seemingly impossible project or a Wingman who is in need. 

The virtues of courage and commitment are enduring!  It is motivating to be part of the 423 ABG, serving and living on the same air bases as did the courageous and committed Airmen who came before me.  I am proud to display that heritage on my sleeve by way of our unit emblem!




American Air Museum in Britain, Imperial War Museum.  William F Drew.  Retrieved from http://www.americanairmuseum.com/person/229442