Donald Mestemacher, of Oakville, a former commander of the 131st Civil Engineer Squadron, speaks to a group of unit veterans during an Oct. 20 reunion of the unit at Jefferson Barracks. (Bill Phelan photo)
ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. - Military service is known for building camaraderie amongst servicemen and women, a fact evident at a reunion of veterans of the Missouri Air National Guard's 131st Civil Engineer Squadron.
More than 50 former members of the unit recently gathered at historic Jefferson Barracks in south St. Louis County for the group's annual reunion meeting.
Formed in 1980 and based at Lambert Airport in St. Louis, the 131st is a construction and rapid runway repair unit.
Calvin Hunnius, of West County, a 26-year veteran of the Air Guard, served in the 131st from its inception to his retirement in 1991 as a chief master sergeant.
"I've made lifelong friendships in the Guard," said Hunnius. "We went on deployments together around the world, so these are memories we like to share when we get together and talk about the good old times."
"We had a lot of good times and some good tours," echoed Donald Mestemacher, of Oakville, a former 131st commander who retired a lieutenant colonel. "We went to Eglin Air Force Base and blew up some runways and repaired them. We went to Panama when Noriega was still in power. We helped the Army Guard build some homes for transients in Rapid City. We had a group of dedicated people who poured concrete, did the electrical work, the plumbing, the engineering, and the carpentry. You name it."
"What was most gratifying about these missions is that we left something positive behind," added Hunnius. "We made some kind of improvement in the community."
Bill Bath, of St. Charles, served as commander of the 131st CES from 1995 to 2000, before retiring in 2002 as a lieutenant colonel.
"I came to the unit in 1991 as the training officer," Bath said. "It really was like a large family at that time. I don't miss the drills, but I do miss the deployments and the team activities."
"There's nothing like the camaraderie of the military," added Sam Sivewright, of Highland, Ill., a retired Air Guard colonel who commanded the 131st from 1990-1991. "It's great to see familiar faces and talk about the past."
Sivewright recalled the 131st being mobilized for the Great Flood of 1993. The unit provided security in West Alton and did sandbagging in West Quincy.
"Serving the community was the most gratifying part of being in the Guard," he said.
As plans for Operation Iraqi Freedom got underway, Hunnius said the mission of the 131st shifted from construction to runway repair.
"They were preparing the unit for being called to active duty," he said. "So that really changed our training. Suddenly we were undergoing chemical warfare training on drill weekends and that's when I realized I was too old. It was time to step aside and let the younger airmen take over."
Veterans of the 131st Civil Engineer Squadron are always glad to hear from former unit members. To contact the group call Calvin Hunnius at 314-540-2314 or Donald Mestemacher at 314-846-5262.
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