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The Historian

(U.S. Air Force illustration by Airman 1st Class Robyn Hunsinger)

(U.S. Air Force illustration by Airman 1st Class Robyn Hunsinger)


The wing historian’s job is one of research, historic preservation, and advisory. It is the historian’s job to maintain and retrieve historical documents and artifacts and to be knowledgeable of their history.

Dr. Joseph Ryan, 17th Training Wing historian, goes on to explain the relationship of the historian to the base, the wing, and the local area.

“One way to think of it is the 17th Training Wing is a family that may move from place to place, from house to house, and Goodfellow Air Force Base is a house that stays in one place,” said Ryan. “The family and the base have separate histories, but since 1993 when the 17th Training Wing was activated at Goodfellow, the family and the house have lived their lives together. The house, however, has been in San Angelo since 1940. The historian knows a bit of the history of both, and the local area.”

Many responsibilities fall upon the wing historian. Although most people are aware that they document historical events and conduct research, the historian also writes speeches, teaches classes and interfaces with local, state, and national educational, cultural, and historic institutions. It is his job to produce an annual history for the Air Staff’s Air Force History Office and to conduct interviews and give tours.

The historian works closely with the wing public affairs office to document and catalog events, creating a history of the wing for the Air Force History and Museums Program.

“They make the history, they provide the experience and expertise, and they supply the documents to the historian,” said Ryan. “No documents, no history. [Public affairs] is especially critical in this regard as a source of information, photographs, etc.”

The wing historian’s vision is to inspire servicemen and women through heritage and create thinkers through historical analysis.

“Historians do a lot of advising,” said Ryan. “Their doors are always open, and they are the gateway to 6,000 years of recorded human experience... Historians will never tell you what to think, but rather suggest to you how to think.”

The historian plays the role of adviser, analyst, and chronicler to base leadership, personnel, and the local population. It is a job often overlooked when considering the mission of the wing, but critical for the future and the decision-makers of the present.

“Historians don’t know everything and are fallible like all of us,” said Ryan. “But they help us to distinguish fact from myth, and they are critical to providing context... And they always, always, have good stories (most true, some which we want to be true).”