I submitted this to the ADN, but who knows if they will publish it..
Last Gasp for Kulis Airbase
Just miles from Anchorage a flight of three F-80 Shooting Star fighter jets blasted through blowing snow and freezing rain. It was the evening of November 16th, 1954 and just 30 minutes earlier a T-33 two-seat trainer version of the Shooting Star had disappeared only 5 miles from Anchorage, along with her crew of Alaskans Roger Pendleton and Lionel Tietze.
Frank Novesel, Albert Kulis and another pilot of the fledgling Alaska Air Guard, gently adjusted the throttles to their Allison J-33 turbine engines as layers of ice formed over the six 50 caliber machine-gun ports which adorned the butter knife shaped noses of their Shooting Star jets. While already obsolete, the Shooting Star’s engine still produced nearly three tons of thrust and allowed the three-plane formation to hurl through the Alaskan storm at more than 400 miles per hour. Then just 5 miles north of Pendleton and Tietze’s last known location, F-80 pilot Frank Novesel of the new 144th Fighter-Bomber Squadron peered through his rapidly icing canopy to see Albert Kulis’s plane make a sudden diving turn into a thick storm cloud. The last thing Novesel saw were the wing lights of Kulis’s F-80 disappearing into the mist. Albert Kulis, along with Roger Pendelton and Lionel Teitze were never seen again.
Months later, in the spring of 1955, a new Air Guard facility co-located at the Anchorage International Airport was officially opened and named after Lt. Albert Kulis.
The decision to move the growing Alaska Air Guard unit away from Elmendorf Air Force base was probably one based upon the recent war time experiences of the 1950s era military leaders. The attacks on Pearl Harbor and other allied bases only a decade previously had shown the dangers of placing all of the nation’s “eggs” in one basket. Should anything close the runways at Elmendorf, such as an attack, an earthquake, a plane crash or even bad weather, placing the Air Guard at the recently opened Anchorage International Airport would give the pilots an optional place to land or launch aircraft.
For 56 years Kulis Air Guard base served the nation and the people of Alaska. Within hours of the 1964 Good Friday earthquake, over 100 beds had been filled inside the tiny 127 acre base, while her dining facility, “chow hall” to us Kulis Kids, turned out meals for the displaced and rescue crews.
Kulis C-123 and C-130 aircrews have hauled food, supplies and medical crews to every point of the planet. HH-130 and HH-60 Helicopter aircrews along with their famous PJ “parachute jumper” medics assigned to Kulis rescue units been saving people for decades, both here in Alaska and in places that you will never know about, unless those missions are one day de-classified.
The Kulis fire-fighting crews have maintained a constant ready alert for decades as well. Waiting 24 hours a day to respond to any plane accident or fire on the International Airport. And on dark and snowy nights when Elmendorf could not recover her planes, the Security Forces troops of Kulis, a hybrid of infantry and police, have stood guard over multi million dollar AWACS aircraft as well as their own aircraft.
The little 127 acre base which some of us called “The Half Acre Woods” has grown over the years. In fact, until recently your tax dollars were still building new facilities. There is the new Security Forces building, along with the new clinic. The Dining Hall which was the best I had ever used during my time in three different branches of the military was also relatively new. The new motor pool, fire station, Civil Engineering Squadron buildings, as well as new aircraft hangar additions were all completed within the last ten years.
But Kulis has been killed by means of BRAC, the Base Re-alignment and Closure Act, a sort of political shell game in which politicians can claim they are saving your tax dollars in one breath and then spend those same dollars again in the next. So basically all the new buildings and hangers which you have already bought with tax dollars on Kulis have now been re-built on Elmendorf.
The last breath of Kulis this month is sad not only because we are paying double, nor that we are repeating the mistakes of the 1930s by placing all of our military assets in one place. It is the death of the Alaska Air Guard Culture that I mourn the most. We were the Alaskans on Kulis, the “Kulis Kids” even though many of us were veterans well past our forties and fifties. When we walked into a restaurant or business anywhere in south Anchorage, people knew we were Alaskans who happened to be wearing a uniform or flight-suit. We were never confused with the transient outsiders who make up the bulk of the folks from Elmendorf and Ft. Richardson.
Farewell Kulis, with you a piece of real Alaska has died.
Alex Clark is a veteran of the US Navy, Alaska Army Guard and retired from the Alaska Air Guard. After serving 20 years as a municipal police officer, State probation officer, volunteer EMT, firearms instructor, rescue swimmer, Firefighter and Civil Air Patrol pilot, he is now a flight instructor near his home town of Homer.