655th ISR Group celebrates 10 years of history dating back to WWII

  • Published
  • By Capt. Rachel Goodspeed
  • 655th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) Wing Public Affairs

Roughly 10 years ago, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) in its current form was a fairly new capability for Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC). Over the decade, thanks to a unique Reserve ISR unit, AFRC has drastically improved the ability to provide ISR surge capacity to Regular Air Force (RegAF) units.

On Sept. 15, 2023, the 655th ISR Group celebrates 10 years of providing ISR support to its associated RegAF units to meet growing national security needs. Activated in 2013 at Wright-Patterson AFB and assigned to 10th Air Force, the unit was formed by order of then-Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz to stand up an ISR group here.

“It wasn’t an easy road to bring the 655 ISRG online. There were both political and physical challenges for the men and women who brought it into existence. It was a brand new concept and there were those who simply didn’t understand what it was designed to achieve” said Ken Sloat, 655th ISRW historian. “The concept of Total Force Integration was relatively new and very few people had tried to envision what an intelligence organization in the Reserve would look like. I like to think the 655 [ISRG] set the stage for emerging AFRC intelligence units.”

“When we started, we were struggling because it was a new capability that the [Air Force] Reserve hadn’t experienced yet,” Col. (retired) Douglas Drakeley, the first commander of the 655th ISRG, said during the stand-up of the 655th ISR Wing in 2018. “But we continued to advocate for it (wing status) because it’s important. It’s the way the active duty is structured. It would have been challenging to integrate with our current active-duty partners if we didn’t have a similar structure and capability.”

As a result, the 71st Intelligence Squadron (IS) and 64th IS from Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio; 63rd IS, 42nd IS and 718th IS from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.; and 38th IS and 50th IS from Beale AFB, Calif., were either activated or reassigned under the new group command totaling roughly 355 highly technical ISR personnel and support staff. Their core functions included (and still do) mission support and operations with their RegAF partners for geospatial analysis, signatures intelligence, human intelligence, global exploitation, targeting requirements, ground systems intelligence, and combat mission-ready ISR.

The group emblem – which was also adopted by the 655th ISR Wing when it stood up five years later – was approved a few months later. Originally drawn by a daughter Lt. Col. (retired) Dianne Hickey, former 14th IS commander, the emblem features an owl “fiercely displaying its wings as if swooping down on prey,” according to 655th ISRW historical records. Lightning bolts are displayed behind the owl and as its eyes, and a skeleton key is held in the owl’s talons. Blue and yellow are the emblem’s key colors.

“The owl is an eternal symbol for wisdom and foresight, and it’s a bird of prey that relies on its keen senses to achieve stealth and surprise,” Sloat said. “The lightning bolts represent the speed and precision at which we work, as well as the destructive power we can unleash on our enemies. The blue and yellow are Air Force colors indicative of the sky and sun, and the excellence required of all Air Force personnel.”

Several of the 655th ISRG squadrons have a long history of military intelligence excellence. The 63rd IS was originally the 33rd Photo Lab, Bomb Group Very Heavy, activated Sept. 19, 1944, at Dalhart Army Air Field, Texas. The B-29 unit was deployed to the island Ie Shima in 1945 and awarded the World War II Asiatic-Pacific Theater service streamer. The 42nd IS was originally the 42nd Photo Lab, Bomb Group Very Heavy, activated Sept. 2, 1945, at Smokey Hill Army Air Field, Kan., but inactivated a month later due to the war ending. The 28th IS is the oldest squadron, activated Aug. 1, 1944, at Dalhart as the 28th Photographic Laboratory, Bombardment Group, Very Heavy. The unit moved to Guam supporting Pacific Theater combat operations and earned the Air Offensive, Japan, campaign streamer.

The 655th ISRG was intended to be converted to a wing in 2014, but due to the 2013 government shutdown, that status was delayed. As a result, the group operated as a “wing equivalent” for five years. In 2018, the 655th ISRG was realigned under the newly-formed 655th ISR Wing – AFRC’s only ISR wing.

“I’m exceedingly proud of how far we’ve come over the last 10 years and with the stand-up of ISR units within the [U.S.] Space Force combined with evolving mission needs, we’ll continue to frame the future of Reserve ISR,” said Col. Eric Bernkopf, current 655th ISR Group commander.