DUKE FIELD, Fla. --
The 919th Special Operations Wing’s founding member was honored here July 8 as Reservists, community leaders and family members dedicated the wing’s headquarters building to the first citizen air commando.
The family of retired Brig. Gen. Donald Haugen, who passed in December 2015, revealed a bronze memorial plaque and a portrait of the former commander of the 919th Tactical Airlift Group during the ceremony. The items will adorn Bldg. 3077 or as it is now known, “Haugen Headquarters.”
Haugen served as the first commander here from July 1971 to March 1974. He led the first Reserve drill weekend Aug. 28-29, 1971, in which approximately 30 Reservists participated without any aircraft formally assigned.
“Over these three years, he built this organization into the epitome of a professional fighting force,” said Col. James Phillips, current 919th SOW commander. “He was a leader in every sense of the word paving the way for this unit to thrive in combat airlift and become a highly decorated special operations wing. We will continue the legacy he established for us nearly 45 years ago.”
He shaped the unit's tactical airlift capabilities through the use of eight C-130 A/B aircraft for intra-theater airlift, aeromedical evacuation and airdrops for the Army's 101st Airborne Division.
Retired Lt. Gen. James Sherrard spoke about his friend and the beginnings of the current base. He recalled Haugen and Congressman Bob Sikes holding up the first sign designating the base “Duke Field.”
“He was a true gentleman by every measure,” said Sherrard. “The 919th’s history and performance are a fitting tribute to him.”
Haugen’s widow, Judy, spoke last about the former commander’s trials in building the unit from the ground up.
“He was a believer. When he believed in something there was no stopping him,” she said. “He believed in the 919th from the start.”
After retiring following 32 years of service, Haugen returned to the Emerald Coast and made it his home. He was on-hand when his group finally became a wing.
“He told me seeing the 919th become a wing was like watching his child graduate,” said Judy.
Both Sherrard and Judy reminisced about Haugen, his career and his polished shoes. Both seemed to remember vividly the 919th TAG’s initial flightline pass and review. After so many years, their memories differ about certain aspects of the presentation. Sherrard remembered the unit’s Airmen wanting the first parade to also be their last so members could focus on the operational mission, while Judy recalled the group beaming with pride as they marched by.
“Don’s pride and joy was the 919th. It was his love and his home,” said Judy. “What better way to celebrate his legacy than to name the 919th’s headquarters after him.”