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25th SRS: Preserving history, heritage

25th SRS

Lt. Col. Anthony Zilinsky, commander of the 25th Space Range Squadron, accepts a scale model of the Royal Aircraft Factory SE5A biplane, originally flown by Capt. Reed Landis, commander of the 25th Aero Squadron in 1918, from Milos Tomic of the Arvada Associated Modelers club in Arvada, Colorado, May 25, 2018. The model has a 55-inch wing span and like the actual SE5A, is made of wood covered with stretched vinyl material. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

25th SRS

Capt. Reed Landis of the 25th Aero Squadron, and pilot of the SE5A biplane, flown in 1918, sits with his dog Mike. Landis was a double ace and a Distinguished Flying Cross recipient. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

25th SRS

Shown is a SE5A replica located at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum in Fort Rucker, Alabama. The model built by Milos Tomic of the Arvada Associated Modelers was customized with the number 13, representing Capt. Reed Landis of the 25th Aero Squadron’s number. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

25th SRS

Shown is the original SE5A biplane, flown by Capt. Reed Landis in 1918. Recently, a model plane was built and donated to the 25th Space Range Squadron by Milos Tomic of the Arvada Associated Modelers to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the unit’s first combat qualifying mission. The SE5A was a British biplane that saw action during World War I. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

One-hundred years ago, the 25th Aero Squadron, the predecessor to the 25th Space Range Squadron, deployed to Europe as part of the American Expeditionary Force.

The unit was comprised of several Americans who had already been flying as part of the Royal Flying Corps, including its squadron commander, Capt. Reed Landis, who is credited with downing nine enemy planes and one balloon.

The 25th SRS is a mission partner at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. The squadron falls under the Nevada Test and Training Range and the United States Air Force Warfare Center.

Members of the 25th SRS and its Reserve Associate Unit, the 379th Space Range Squadron, maintain and operate the Space Test and Training Range in support of joint serve test, training and exercise events.

Led by self-proclaimed history buff Tech. Sgt. Ryan Herter, operations flight chief with the 25th SRS, the unit has been collecting historical artifacts such as a World War I helmet, and a yearbook from when the unit flew missions to protect the strategic Panama Canal Zone, to capture the squadron’s heritage.

Herter’s passion for the preservation of history stems from his previous assignments.

“Cheyenne Mountain AFS is a museum in itself,” he added. “In 1st SOPS, there were all these old photos of launches on the wall, and I thought they were really cool. Then I was in a unit where all of the artifacts were taken away. The unit had its pride taken from it, so I think that’s where my passion stems from.”

Herter explained him and his fellow Airmen search military and other auction sites once or twice a week, looking for anything interesting that would fit into their collection.

“For a while, I thought we bought them out,” he laughed.

Herter and other members of the unit strive to preserve the 25th SRS’s rich history.  

“We’re just an Air Force unit trying to discover our heritage,” said Lt. Col. Anthony Zilinsky, former commander of the 25th SRS.

Recently, the squadron stumbled upon an unfinished model plane, much like the one Landis flew in 1918.

The Royal Aircraft Factory SE5A was a British biplane that saw action during World War I, and was equipped with an engine capable of reaching 138 miles per hour.

The one-sixth scale model SE5A was built and donated to the unit by Milos Tomic of Arvada Associated Modelers to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 25th SRS’s first combat qualifying mission.

Zilinsky explained Tomic inquired as to why he wanted to purchase the unassembled model, and what his modeling skills looked like.

“Although the model is capable of flying, we were just interested in hanging it up and showing it off as part of our heritage,” he said. “I’ve built small, plastic models before, but I’ve never seen or attempted to build anything like this.”

After discussion, Tomic agreed to assemble and customize the model, free of charge, to help the squadron celebrate their history.

More than a month later, Tomic completed the model and presented it to Zilinsky.

“He (Tomic) customized the model to fit with the original plane’s colors,” he said. “I was just amazed at the size and the fact that he made an effort to personalize it. It’s as accurate as it’s going to get without being the real thing.”

Herter appreciated Tomic’s passion for not only building model planes, but the interest he had in their unit.

“It’s nice that someone else shares the same passion that we do for the unit,” he said. “The guys that have come before us, it’s important to tell their story. One hundred years from now, someone might be telling our story. It’s important for unit pride, heritage and lineage.”

Zilinsky presented the model to Lt. Col. Jason Powell, incoming commander of the 25th SRS, as a welcome gift at the change of command ceremony June 25.

“It’s just amazing that these perfect strangers are willing to work with us once they hear our story,” he said. “Milos isn’t a stranger anymore, I consider him a friend to our unit.”