Over the past 80 years, thousands of Defence Force members have passed through the gates of RAAF Base Wagga in preparation for military service.
The base marked its birthday on Wednesday, July 1, reflecting on its evolution; from preparing Air Force personnel for the battlefields of World War II, to the challenges faced by the modern force.
RAAF Base Wagga, originally RAAF Station Forest Hill until December 1952, was first established as a flying training base in 1940, primarily to introduce junior pilots to the complexities of advanced flying.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Scherger, then a wing commander, was the first commanding officer and station commander at RAAF Station Forest Hill from 1940-1941.
Wing Commander Scherger was strict with discipline, an approach which quickly earned the station the nickname 'Scherger’s Concentration Camp'.
He ensured pilots were trained to a high standard, which saved many a life in battle.
According to locals, most mornings he took to the skies and entertained the town with his stunt flying.
Following WWII, due to the large number of vacant engineering and administrative facilities, the base reinvented itself as a training facility for many of Air Force’s ground-based trades in aviation maintenance, logistics, supply, movements, and administration, as well as initial military training.
Today, RAAF Base Wagga continues to prepare ADF personnel for military service in challenging environments; from supporting military commitments across the globe, including a continuing presence in the Middle East, to humanitarian aid missions in our near region and to increasingly frequent responses to natural disasters on home soil.
At its heart, RAAF Base Wagga’s mission has been the same since the beginning, which is reflected in its motto 'We Prepare'.
Currently at the helm is Senior Australian Defence Force Officer Group Captain Chris Ellison, who has served many years at Wagga and highlighted the importance of the relationship with the local community.
"I am extraordinarily pleased to have been selected to lead RAAF Base Wagga as its Senior ADF Officer and I am extremely proud of the work this base does in generating personnel to start and continue a career in the Australian Defence Force," Group Captain Ellison said.
"These are challenging times. Although it seems a world away now, the base stood up in the first week of January 2020 in response to Operation Bushfire Assist. The base housed, fed, and cared for a number of evacuees whose homes and lives were threatened by the fires.
"RAAF Wagga and its personnel stood as a solid, reliable and safe presence in the Wagga community in a time of great turmoil, just as we have in other disasters which have affected the region and I trust we remain so."
With much of the physical nature of the base largely unchanged from its early years, all of the base's wartime hangars still stand and continue to echo to the sounds of those learning their craft.
Other key structures, such as the Officers' Mess, guardhouse and parade ground provide clear physical links to the base's past.
There is a rich and unique history to be explored at the base’s front gate, with a Canberra, Meteor, F-111C, Macchi and Mirage aircraft acting as gate guards.
To learn more about the base, visit the RAAF Base Wagga Aviation Heritage Centre website www.raafbasewagga.com.au/raaf-base-wagga-heritage-centre/.