During the early part of 1952, Col. Johnson felt that the Army National Guard program was far enough along to proceed with organization of an Air National Guard for Alaska. He had approached Governor Gruening about the idea the second week after his arrival in Juneau as adjutant general, and the governor had said, ―It‘s a good idea, Why not? Why don‘t you work on it?‖
Johnson had found that the idea had been brought up about 1949 or 1950, and some letters in the governor‘s file said there wasn‘t enough population to warrant an Air Guard unit. A city of 100,000 was needed, and there was barely that many in the whole territory. But he went ahead and contacted General Kepner at the Alaskan Command and sold him on the idea. Later, when Kepner, General Olds, Governor Gruening and Johnson had lunch together one day in Juneau, Gruening gave Johnson the high sign: ―Now‘s the time.‖
―General Kepner,‖ Johnson remembers saying, ―we‘ve got to start getting the pieces together for an Air National Guard for Alaska. I sure hope you‘ll support it.‖ He said he was all for it. General Old said he wanted fighters. Johnson said, ―Right.‖ General Kepner said he wanted bombers. Johnson said, ―Right, anything.‖ Two days later Johnson and Gruening sent a letter to Kepner asking for his comments and support, intending to forward the letter to the National Guard Bureau in Washington. In another few days Johnson flew to the National Guard Bureau, where he met with the bureau chief, General Fleming, and got his blessing, successfully ending the first battle.
The next step was getting state backing; the federal approval was contingent on local recruitment and funding. Johnson rented an office on Fourth Avenue in Anchorage, put a recruitment notice in the paper and asked the legislature for $20,000. The legislature fought him, and he lost. Johnson was mad when he heard the news. But he was determined to win this war anyway. He told his right hand man, Lee Lucas, ―We‘re still going to start the Air Guard.‖ He cut every National Guard program in the territory, even breaking pencils in two so there would be enough to go around, and took $20,000 out of the budget for an Air Guard.
The response from the National Guard Bureau was good. ―Without their help,‖ Johnson says now, ―we never would have made it.‖ The territory‘s first plane, a C-47, was given to Alaska from Maryland‘s allotment, and money was taken from other states‘ allotments and put into a pot for Alaska. ―You know,‖ Johnson had told the legislature, ―we‘re putting a million dollar business into Anchorage and you can‘t see it.‖169 46
The Alaska Air National Guard was organized officially on September 15, 1952, as the 8114th Air Base Squadron. Five officers and eleven enlisted men answered the roll call at the first unit training assembly that day at Elmendorf Air Force Base, the unit‘s first home. The 8114th‘s first plane of its own arrived in February, 1953, a T-6G trainer. Federal recognition was granted on July 1, 1953, and the unit was redesignated as the 144th Fighter-Bomber Squadron.