Historian uses wing past to preserve its legacy

  • Published
  • By Gene H. Hughes
  • 908th Airlift Wing
According to Tech. Sgt. Matthew H. Scales, wing historian for the 908th Airlift Wing, most people think his job is to share facts about Air Force history or collect old squadron softball team trophies.

In reality, it's to tell the 908th Airlift Wing story.

He said that often confuses people who think that's a Public Affairs function, and although the jobs are similar, his focus is on the future. While he keeps PA publications on file, the history he writes is aimed more towards decision makers rather than a general audience.

Take sequestration, for example.

"In the 2013 history, I wrote about sequestration and so did PA," he said. "However, in the wing history report, I included the budget provided by finance and included facts on how the wing dealt with the consequences of it, such as reduced flight hours.

"One day the wing, or even the Air Force as a whole, might face a similar situation. If so, they can look back at the history and say, 'What did we do last time? What worked and what didn't?" The history is a lessons-learned type of report."

Scales said history is often used as a tool or a weapon, such as helping a unit to keep its aircraft and mission.

"If I've documented the 357th Airlift Squadron's support of airborne students at Fort Benning, someone could pull that up. Someone could argue, 'If you shut us down, you're shutting down a unit that's not only the closest to Benning but, since 2000, has helped to qualify X number of qualified paratroopers.'"

The wing historian's annual report covers the 908th for the entire year. Scales said the only way he can do that is if people know he's here and, more importantly, share information with him. And he can never have too much information.

It seems many people think their squadron's activities aren't important, or PA has already covered it, which leads to a problem: Scales can't use PA articles. The AFRC regulations require Scales to write his history from the original documents.

"They want to see that my information came from memos, reports, PowerPoint slides, interviews, and emails," he said. "I'm sure it frustrates or confuses people, because if I can't use the PA articles, I'll probably be asking the same questions when I come to research an event."

Even if it's what some might consider as "just another exercise," Scales said he wants to know all about it, getting any stats, briefing slides or after-action reports he can.

"The bottom line as I see it is this: I'm here to tell the story of the wing," he said. "But the only way I can is if people help me by providing information. I don't expect everyone to give me exactly what I want the second I ask for it, but I can't write about something I don't know. I've seen so many Air Force historians just cover the basics, and that was it. I don't want the 908th history to be that way."

"As Air Force units go, the 908th is a very young unit and, therefore, it doesn't have a very long history," he said. "I say that to emphasize anything we do we must document, both to build on our short history, and arguably more important, to show why the wing is important to the Air Force."