BIRMINGHAM, Ala. --
If you have recently passed through the gate at the 117th Air Refueling Wing, you may have noticed a new message on the digital marque in front of the Medical Group that reads “Welcome to Sumpter Smith Air National Guard Base.” Who is Sumpter Smith and why is the 117th Air Refueling Wing adopting his name?
Walter Sumpter Smith was born on February 12, 1896 in Belle Ellen, Alabama and became an electrical engineer and a pilot. In 1921, Smith was appointed to the 106th Observation Squadron of the Alabama National Guard and commissioned as a first lieutenant at Roberts Field in Birmingham, Alabama. He reached the rank of lieutenant colonel on August 12, 1932 and colonel in 1942.
In 1934, the facilities at Roberts Field became less adequate as the local government decided to build a new facility at the Birmingham Municipal Airport. In 1938, after four years of construction, the 106 OS moved to the current location of the 117 ARW.
As a testimony to Smith’s role in the development and construction, the base was eventually named Sumpter Smith Air National Guard Base. It remained that way until sometime during the early 1990s when the name evolved to the Alabama Air National Guard Base, Birmingham, Alabama. It’s not really clear why the name changed and no official documents have been found.
Col. Scott Grant, the 117th Air Refueling Wing Vice Commander, discovered this information while researching the unit’s history in 2011 in preparation for the 90th Anniversary of the 106th Air Refueling Squadron.
A push was made to restore the name of the base to Sumpter Smith Air National Guard Base and was made official during the summer of 2017.
“…Col. Smith was one of the most prominent forefathers of this unit and in the nation during the earlier days of aviation. The effort to correct the name of the base was just the right thing to do to preserve and memorialize the contributions of this great man,” said Grant.
For more information on Sumpter Smith and his role in aviation, visit the Davis-Monthan Aviation Field Register at: https://dmairfield.com/people/smith_su/