1953: Creech joins Thunderbirds at Luke
A Luke Air force Base captain joined the Thunderbird Aerial Demonstration Team at Luke more than 60 years ago this month.
Before joining the team, Capt. Wilbur Creech was a flight commander and taught advanced gunnery. Obviously, he had something special to be selected for the team in its second season, but who knew he would change the Air Force.
Earning his wings and commission through a flying training school in 1949, his first operational assignment was on Okinawa, Japan. When the Korean War began, he went with his unit to Kimpo Air Base, Korea, and flew 103 combat missions over North Korea. He then served a tour as a ground forward air controller with the Army.
In July 1951, he came to Luke and flew in 125 shows with the Thunderbirds. In January 1956, he took command of the Skyblazers, the U.S. Air Forces Europe Aerial Demonstration Team. Over the next four years he flew in 399 shows.
In the early ‘60s, Creech served two years as the Fighter Weapons School director of operations. He then spent three years as the executive officer and aide to the Tactical Air Command commander.
In November 1968, Creech joined the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing at Phu Cat AB, Republic of Vietnam. In six months as the deputy commander for operations, he flew 177 combat missions. Seventh Air Force, headquartered in Saigon, selected him to be the deputy chief of staff for operations.
After Vietnam, he commanded two wings in USAFE before becoming the command’s deputy chief of staff for operations and intelligence. In 1974, he took command of the Electronic Systems Division. In 1977, he moved to Headquarters Air Force, where he was triple-hatted with jobs dealing with readiness, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United Nations.
He took command of TAC on May 1, 1978, and a number of factors helped him improve conditions within the command. Those included the continuing production of the A-10, F 15 and F-16 aircraft, as well as the implementation of the production oriented maintenance organization. Even with the all-volunteer force, there were still plenty of Airmen who had joined the Air Force so they would not be drafted into the Army.
How did Creech change the U.S. Air Force in his six-plus years in command? He believed if people had a nice place to work, they would be more productive. Previously, there was no standard paint scheme for buildings, inside or out. He came up with a two-tone paint scheme light tan and a dark brown shade that became known as Creech Brown. Building signs were standardized for shape, size, layout and color scheme. Everything got painted.
The insides of buildings received even more improvements. Dark dingy work areas became brightly lit. Grey metal desks and chairs with fake leather were replaced with desks that looked like wood and fabric chairs. One of the major changes was carpet. Previously, almost all work areas had linoleum tile flooring or just concrete. Every base opened self-help stores where the squadrons could buy materials to renovate their spaces. Cleanliness and care for the remodeled facilities was highly stressed.
While there have been many steps and improvements since then, those who lived through the transformation know that General Creech was right about his people.