Airman Heritage Training Complex warehouse a portal into JBSA, Air Force history

  • Published
  • By David DeKunder
  • 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Stored in a nondescript warehouse at Joint Base San Antonio-Chapman Annex is a treasure trove of Air Force history.

The Airman Heritage Training Complex warehouse, or Building 222, is a 5,000-square foot facility containing over 5,900 artifacts, photos, documents and mementos related to Air Force history, from the early days of the branch to the present, placed in rows of shelves and cases.

Walking into the warehouse is like stepping into a portal of Air Force and JBSA-Lackland history, containing vintage uniforms, Basic Military Training photos and yearbooks, archives and volumes of books on Air Force history and airpower and mannequins which are used for displays at the Airman Heritage and U.S. Air Force Security Forces Exhibits Annex museums at JBSA-Lackland.

“It’s a neat, kind of an odd place,” said Bill Manchester, Airman Heritage Training Complex director at JBSA-Lackland. “It’s one of those things where no one knows that it exists. You can come down here and do research, you can find things on aircraft, you can find items you haven’t seen before.”

Manchester, who oversees the Airman Heritage and the U.S. Air Force Security Forces Exhibits Annex museums at JBSA-Lackland, said the warehouse, a former maintenance storage facility, has been used to store Air Force and JBSA-Lackland artifacts for 35 years.

The warehouse contains 3,672 artifacts which are on loan from the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, to the Airman Heritage Training Complex.

Approximately 2,000 museum support articles and educational support items are also included in the warehouse for use by the Airman Heritage and the U.S. Air Force Security Forces Exhibits Annex museums, including uniforms, photos and mannequins.

The warehouse also includes 2,300 artifacts from the Airmen Memorial Museum, which closed in Maryland several years ago. The Airman Heritage Foundation, the non-profit organization which supports the Airman Heritage Museum, paid to have this collection shipped to JBSA-Lackland and through an agreement curates the Airmen Memorial Museum collection in a separate area of the warehouse.

Artifacts which belong to the National Museum of the Air Force have been accessed into their collection by Manchester. He accesses artifacts which he determines should be part of the greater Air Force collection at the warehouse, with the National Museum of the Air Force making the final decision as to whether or not they will accept an artifact into the greater Air Force collection.

During one particular day earlier this year, Manchester was accessing a brown pilot jacket of late 1st Lt. Frank Console, a World War II B-17 bomber pilot. The jacket was donated to the Airman Heritage Museum by Console’s son.

The jacket included the unit symbol Console was part of, his call sign, the number of bombing missions he took part in and the Noah’s ark symbol which was painted on his aircraft.

“This is important,” Manchester said. “I think this jacket is a great piece that should be in the Air Force collection.”

One of the quirky things of the Airman Heritage Training Complex warehouse are the 45 mannequins, sitting, displayed on stands or laying in shelves, which give the creepy impression to museum staff members and visitors they are staring at them.

“When you come in here and the lights are off and all the mannequins are up there, it’s quite scary,” Manchester said.

Because of the abundance of mannequin and mannequin body parts inside the warehouse, Airman Heritage Museum staff members sometimes call it the mannequin, or body, farm.

Manchester said the warehouse also includes unique and off the wall artifacts and mementos, including a fuel bladder, a revolving chair which simulates in flight conditions and antique aircraft engines.

Referring to the section of the warehouse where the unusual historical items are stored, Manchester said, “It’s like the repository of all historical weirdness you can get in the Air Force.”

Alejandra Musa, Airman Heritage Foundation collections manager, said working inside the warehouse is “a pretty cool gig.”

Musa curates the Airmen Memorial Museum collection, accessing and organizing artifacts and materials from World War I to present day.

Her favorite part of her job in the warehouse is maintaining vintage Air Force uniforms, from Women in the Air Force, or WAF, flight suits, nursing to Security Forces, and helping to dress people in the vintage uniforms for special shows, re-enactments and appearances.

“My favorite stuff about the warehouse is definitely the living history,” Musa said. “When we get to dress people up in old uniforms and go through all the bits and pieces of putting it together. I’m a fashionista. I guess you can call it a military fashion show.”

Manchester said the warehouse is open to those individuals, historians, researchers and JBSA members, who are interested in Air Force and JBSA-Lackland history. For information on reserving time at the warehouse, call the Airman Heritage Museum at 210-671-3055.