Yesterday, the DC Air National Guard’s 113th Wing reached a huge milestone for its Aerospace Control Alert (ACA) Detachment. When the klaxon sounded, it was alert event number 5,000.

Even though the alarm resolved itself before takeoff and the Vipers never left the ground, it still went down in the books, a historic first in the nation.

The 113th’s ACA Detachment was created under duress on September 11, 2001 in response to the terrorist attacks on the United States. Until those critical moments that fateful Tuesday morning fourteen years ago, the 113th Wing did not have an alert mission, despite their F-16s residing less than a dozen miles away from the District of Columbia.

“From that day and every day since, we have had ‘Capital Guardians’ on point, vigilant and ready to do what is necessary to defend the nation and the National Capital Region,” says Lieutenant Colonel Johnny “Vegas” Vargas, the wing’s ACA Commander. “As we approached this milestone of 5,000 events and with the region we protect here, our operational tempo is higher than any other alert center in the country.”

Locally at the DC detachment, there are four pieces to the ACA puzzle. The Command Post controllers are listening for the alerts and communicating back and forth to higher headquarters. Security Forces provides the force protection and physical security to the compound area.

"Capital Guardians" Viper departing on a morning mission during Sentry Savannah 15-1
A 113th Wing F-16  departs on a morning mission during Sentry Savannah 15-1

The other two players on the ACA team are the pilots themselves and the ever-important maintainers that keep the armed jets in play. “It is phenomenal to hit that milestone and for everyone here to be a part of that because it really is a team effort throughout,”  said Master Sgt. Curtis Hills, maintenance alert team supervisor.

“There are approximately 15 (ACA) units total, so if you added up all of the alert calls from these units and totaled the numbers, now double that, and that doesn’t even come close to the amount of activity we have had,” said Colonel William Valentine, 113th Operations Group Commander. “Obviously, this is a welcomed consequence to being next to the nation’s capital.”

Following 9/11, specific flight rules were created for the airspace around Washington, D.C., and restricted areas were shaped to meet specific requirements for the more sensitive areas. Aircraft and airmen from the 113th Wing were placed on alert 24/7/365, ready to take action if necessary to defend the National Capital Region from airborne threats from that day forward.

“That was the day that the ACA mission was born. I was here when the first sortie took off for this emergency and I am here now, almost 15 years later, to witness us pass 5,000 alarm events,” said Valentine.

A "Capital Guardians" Viper driver taxies from EOR for a nighttime CAS mission
A “Capital Guardians” Viper driver taxies from EOR for a nighttime CAS mission

Important to note, and while it wasn’t intentionally scheduled, the two pilots on shift when the horn sounded yesterday were the ACA Squadron Commander and his wingman, 1Lt Jacob “Reaper” Zuberi, the youngest mission-ready pilot in the squadron, serving on his very first alert shift.

“Having Reaper on shift for the 5,000 mark sends a message,” Vargas remarked. “To date the Capital Guardians have had a great deal of success in the defense of the NCR.  That being said, we will remain vigilant and ever ready.  For years to come, 1Lt Zuberi and his squadron mates will be here…on point…protecting Washington, D.C.  We will treat our 5,001st event with the same intensity that we did our first 14 years ago.”

Guardian Pride…Second to None!!

(Editor’s note: If you’d like to keep up to date with the Capital Guardians, we recommend that you visit their Facebook page and that you give them a like.)