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News | June 26, 2024

Pa. National Guard’s oldest Air unit turning 100

By Brad Rhen

Pennsylvania’s oldest Air National Guard unit will celebrate its 100th birthday June 27, 2024.

The 111th Attack Wing’s 103rd Attack Squadron traces its lineage to the 103rd Observation Squadron, which was established on June 27, 1924, as a unit of the Army’s 28th Division.

That date, however, is when the unit was federally recognized. The squadron’s history actually goes back to 1921, when it was constituted in the National Guard as the 103rd Squadron (Observation), assigned to the 28th Division and allotted to the state of Pennsylvania. It was redesignated the 103rd Observation Squadron on Jan. 25, 1923.

Maj. Charles Biddle, a World War I ace who flew as part of the famous American volunteer Lafayette Flying Corps, founded the unit and served as its first commander.

Lt. Col. Christopher Daniels, the 103rd Attack Squadron’s current commander, said he gets “awe struck” when thinking about the squadron’s storied history.

“The unit’s roots beginning with Major Biddle as a volunteer in the famed Lafayette Escadrille in World War I to its official standup in 1924, the 103rd has played an important role in every major conflict of the 20th century and continues to have effects on the battle space today,” Daniels said.

Col. Lynn Lee, 111th Attack Wing commander, said the squadron's history is a testament to the resilience, adaptability and dedication of its Airmen over the years.

“From its origins in World War I to its current role in modern remotely-piloted vehicle operations, the squadron has consistently demonstrated its ability to evolve and meet the challenges of each era,” Lee said. “Whether flying reconnaissance missions in the early 20th century or providing precision strike capabilities today, the 103rd has always stood at the forefront of our nation’s defense.”

A storied history

The 103rd Observation Squadron was one of the 29 original National Guard observations squadrons that were established between World Wars I and II, making it one of the oldest units in today’s Air National Guard.

The unit originally flew the JN-6/JNS “Jenny,” an open-cockpit bi-plane. It operated from the grass runways of a makeshift airfield known as Model Farms Flying Field, now Philadelphia International Airport.

The 103rd flew a variety of training and observation aircraft until 1941 when the unit was ordered to active service, performing anti-submarine patrols along the New England coast. From 1943 through the end of World War II, the 103rd flew photo reconnaissance missions in the F-5C in the China-Burma-India Theater.

Over its century of service, the squadron was redesignated numerous times and flew numerous different aircraft with numerous different missions. It has deployed to nearly every conflict the United States has participated in since World War II.

Of note, the squadron was designated the 103rd Fighter Squadron and flew the A-10 Thunderbolt, commonly referred to as “Warthogs,” in a close air support role from 1995 until 2010. During this time, the squadron deployed a total of seven times to Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq in support of Operations Southern Watch, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Since 2014, the unit has been known as the 103rd Attack Squadron, a subordinate unit of the 111th Attack Wing, and based at Biddle Air National Guard Base in Horsham, Pennsylvania. Its Airmen remotely operate the MQ-9 “Reaper” unmanned aerial system in combat air patrols across the globe, providing surveillance, reconnaissance and search-and-rescue capabilities and weapons employment when called upon.

Daniels, who assumed command of the squadron in January 2024, said he is humbled to serve as commander of such a historical unit, especially as it celebrates its 100th birthday.

“I cannot begin to express my gratitude to the 37 squadron commanders who served before me,” Daniels said. “I am literally standing on the shoulders of giants and will do my best to continue their legacy of excellence as I lead the men and women of the fighting 103rd into the future.”

Lee said it is a distinct honor to serve as wing commander as the 103rd celebrates this historic milestone.

“This unit's rich legacy of service and excellence resonates throughout our entire organization,” Lee said. “The 103rd has a proud history that spans from the early days of military aviation to its current cutting-edge role in remotely piloted vehicle operations. Their journey is a reflection of our broader commitment to adaptability and mission success across the generations.

"As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 103rd Attack Squadron, it's incredible to reflect on the profound impact this unit has had over the past century,” Lee added. “Their legacy of excellence not only underscores the advancements in military aviation but also highlights the unwavering dedication of the men and women who have served in its ranks."

The 111th Operations Group Association is planning a 100th anniversary reunion for all current and former squadron members over the squadron’s September drill weekend.