KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Every wing has a story of events and accomplishments of Airmen’s bravery, courage and sacrifice, and new chapters of the wing’s legacy are added continuously.
Capturing those stories and archiving the history of the 403rd Wing and its Reserve Citizen Airmen’s role in national defense is the job of Dr. Justin J. Iverson.
He’s the 403rd Wing’s newest historian and the first full-time civil servant to hold the position.
Some of his duties include documenting unit historical activities and heritage, such as reviewing unit emblem submission request packages, and maintaining wing historical archives to include drafting the wing’s annual history report. He is also charged with providing historical research and reference services for leadership and the public, according to Air Force Handbook 84-106, Aerospace Operations in Peace and War.
Iverson, originally from Denver grew up in Chicago where he enlisted in the Air Force in 2006 upon graduation from high school. He served as a security forces member at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, and Moody AFB, Georgia, until he separated in 2012. During that time, he deployed to Baghdad, Iraq for a year from 2008 to 2009.
His educational journey began during his enlistment. He earned his Community College of the Air Force degree in 2011.
“I’ve always been a history dork,” he said. “When I was a kid I liked watching old movies about the Civil War and World War II. I did well in history so it was an easy choice for me to pursue.”
Upon separating from the Air Force, he continued to use his educational benefits and earned his bachelor’s in history from American Military University in May 2013, and his master’s and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in history in May 2016 and May 2020 from Northern Illinois University.
The now “Dr.” Iverson began his job search this spring which led him to the 403rd Wing. The Reserve unit was looking for a civilian to fill the historian position that previously had been a part-time enlisted traditional reservist. A position that had been vacant for 5 years.
“The Air Force Reserve’s transition to hiring civilian historians was a great opportunity for me and a means for me to do something I enjoy and still maintain a connection with the Air Force,” he said.
And, the rest, as they say, is history. The wing hired him this summer.
The Air Force Reserve Command’s transition to full-time civilian historians began two years ago, however, it’s not a new concept as the Air Force made this move in 2004.
AFRC had 38 enlisted traditional reserve historians in 2004, but began changing the positions to civilian authorizations in 2018, said Dr. Donald Boyd, AFRC Office of History and Heritage. There were several reasons that brought this about.
“We did not have a technical school for our enlisted historians, so when TR historians were arriving at their unit there were issues with them obtaining their skill levels required for upgrade training,” Boyd said, adding that AFRC was running the technical school for Reserve military historians as well as overseeing upgrade training for a time but there wasn’t enough staffing for them to sustain this operation. “Also, our TR historians were working 38 days a year (2 days a month, 14 days of annual tour) and with all of their on-the-job and ancillary training and other UTA requirements the mission was not getting accomplished. There is just too much to do, and we were losing the history. The units were falling behind; years behind.”
To fix the issue, Boyd worked with Lt. Gen. Richard W. Scobee, commander of AFRC, to begin the process to fund full-time historian positions at the wings. There are still some TR historians, but eventually all the positions will be civilian, according to Boyd.
Iverson, and other new wing historians, must be academically trained as part of the job requirement, and they then attend the Historian Orientation Course at Maxwell AFB, Alabama.
Training now complete, the 403rd Wing historian’s biggest challenge now is to rebuild the program and do that with very little continuity. But, he said he’s getting it done, and has been working his way through old documents, VHS tapes and photos learning about the wing and everything in its archives.
“It’s been interesting learning about the wing as well as the weather reconnaissance mission and how they collect data for (National Hurricane Center) forecasts,” he said. “And it’s been pretty entertaining looking at everyone’s bad perms and cheesy mustaches from the ‘80s and ‘90s.”
From here, he said he will be reaching out to the units to get information and documents for past and future history reports.
Historians are the gatekeepers of historical information as the records information management system only keeps information for a few years, according to Boyd.
“The history program is the harvester and repository of information. When we write history we are collecting data and documents; our challenge is to write for the future,” he said. “We write history for the commander, but we are also writing reports for future leaders. We try to look down the road 20, 40, 60, 100 years from now and figure out what information people might need. Over the decades the history program has done a good job in the data they’ve collected, and we hope the new civilian historians will continue those contributions.”