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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Granite State of Mind, #105: Pease AFB, Newington/Portsmouth

Am I off base here?

I still call it Pease Air Force Base, even though it hasn't been that for more than a quarter century. As a kid growing up in Stratham along the Greenland border, I can vividly remember standing on my parents' porch, watching as the KC-135 refuelers and other huge military aircraft roared overhead, seemingly low enough to reach up and touch.

Pease began in the 1930s as the commercial Portsmouth Municipal Airport before the US Navy began to use the facility during World War II. In 1951 the USAF came to town, transforming Pease into a Strategic Air Command base. (Pease, by the way, was named for Harl Pease. Harl was born in Plymouth, NH, graduated from UNH in 1939, and became an Air Force Captain. During WWII he died valiantly in action, earning a posthumous Medal of Honor endorsed by General MacArthur.) From the 1950s through the 1980s, Pease was home to the 100th and 509th bombardment wings, and over those decades the FB-111 and the C-130 Hercules were frequent sights in the seacoast skies. The base population reached 10,000 at its height, and along with the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard conveyed a workaday martial flavor to the area. It also conveyed some anxiety to this elementary school kid. The early and mid-eighties were the last gasp of the Cold War, a time when nuclear conflict between the US and the USSR seemed as possible, perhaps even likely, as ever. As a nine-year old in 1984, I was convinced that the shipyard and air base made us a prime target for Soviet nukes. (I was also convinced, and have never fully become unconvinced, that our friendly neighborhood SAC base had a few underground ICBM silos of its own).

In 1991 the base fell victim to the BRAC and began its long, ultimately successful transition to a commercial tradeport and home of the NH Air National Guard. Cold War tensions gave way to the unending struggle with Islamic extremism, and Pease continued to serve as a hub in the traffic of troops overseas to and from the Middle East. Sarah passed through there herself en route to her own deployment, and this seems the appropriate place to mention the selfless service of the Pease Greeters, the volunteer men and women who make sure that no one with our flag on their sleeve passes through without a warm handshake and a tincture of our national gratitude. The flights come through at all hours, but the greeters are always there.

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