Air National Guard active duty in JPG

Kari Moore
Staff Writer

The Jefferson Proving Ground (JPG) closed in 1995 and to this day many people would think it’s closed and there’s no one out there. The Air National Guard (Air Force) active duty unit would beg to differ!

At the Jefferson Bombing Range, an air to ground bombing range located inside the old proving ground, just outside of New Marion, is a unit of 10 active duty soldiers who are considered Active Guard Reserve (AGR). The unit is a Geographically Separated Unit (GSU) because of its proximity to any military base. The men and women who serve in the unit are mostly Hoosiers from areas such as Milan, Madison and Shelbyville. Those stationed at JPG will not get stationed elsewhere and most of them stay at the Range until they are ready to retire.

The unit supports all branches of the military and all aircraft types for training but mostly the Indiana Air National Guard’s 122nd Fighter Wing’s A-10 aircraft from Ft. Wayne.

The mission of the Range is to provide a training place for pilots to get bombs and bullets on target. Aircraft fly over the range to drop ordnance daily; but no fear, all ordnance used at the Range is inert - non-explosive. They also facilitate Close Air Support training for troops on the ground to practice calling in air strikes, combat search and rescue exercises and many other types of training. Units come from military bases all around the country and even bases outside the country to train at the Range.

The airspace for aircraft using the Jefferson Bombing Range is from 24,000 feet down to the ground. Aircraft cannot operate if there is less than three miles of visibility.

Atop the control tower targets not visible on the ground are visible high above the 1,100 acres that make up the Jefferson Bombing Range. The tower, new to the unit, allows them to monitor weather conditions, and provide immediate feedback to the pilots on the accuracy of their training tests through electronic scoring.

The unit is basically the few and forgotten except to those units who use them and could not meet their training mission without the men and women that make up the Jefferson Bombing Range unit. Without the Range, seven of the Midwest fighter units could not satisfy training requirements mandatory for war readiness, which would result in their termination. Units have participated in enforcing the ‘no-fly zones’ over Iraq and many participated in the war to free Iraq.

A typical workweek at Jefferson Range is Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and it is also open one weekend a month to support traditional guard and reserve units. The schedule sometimes varies in the winter to accommodate night training requirements. Typically, this occurs Tuesday through Thursday once a month. These night operations run from approximately 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.

According to the Jefferson Bombing Range’s informational brochure, construction of the Jefferson Range began in October 1976 under the watchful eye of Captain Lawrence Williams. Originally, a simple range configuration was used to include two strafe pit targets and a bomb circle. The U.S. Army Jefferson Proving Ground explosive demolition personnel assisted in clearing the proposed target areas of unexploded ordnance (UXO) before a small mountain of dirt was hauled in to buildup the target area and roadbeds.

In April 1977, a flight of F-100s from the 122nd Fighter Wing was the first flight flown over the newly established air-ground gunnery range. One Range Control Officer and four enlisted personnel were assigned to the range on opening day. In its first year of operation the Range supported, 1,350 sorties. In recent years, the Range has supported 1,800 different sorties. Jefferson Range has expanded its missions to include: three strafe pit targets, a conventional bomb circle and over 13 tactical targets supporting precision guided munitions, laser, and night vision detection training for fighter units from the surrounding states.

Other duties of the Air National Guard unit at the Jefferson Range include taking care of the Big Oak National Wildlife Refuge. Upon termination of the U.S. Army’s mission at JPG the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Air National Guard signed a Memorandum of Agreement.

The agreement governs the conduct of their services, operations and activities at the Refuge. The Air National Guard is responsible for: inspection and maintenance of 50 miles of the perimeter chain link fence, mowing 500 acres of grass, grading 30 miles of gravel roads, keeping Old Timbers Lodge watertight and pest free, maintaining 17 miles of paved road surface and annual inspection and maintenance of four historic stone-arch bridges. The Air Guard spends approximately $300,000 a year satisfying the obligation to the agreement and takes pride in satisfying the needs of the Range and Refuge.

So yes, the Jefferson Proving Ground is closed, but the Jefferson Bombing Range is up and running providing our military with the best training possible. Hopefully, now the few and forgotten can lose their “forgotten” title!

Picturedtop photo is a table of ordnance used at the Jefferson Bombing Range. Some items on the table are no longer being used in training the pilots that come to the Range today, but were once used. Fairly new to the Range is the tower in the photo above. The tower allows the unit to monitor weather conditions and provide immediate feedback to the training pilots through electronic scoring. Below is a close up of an inert bomb used at the Range.