SAN ANTONIO– In today’s fast-paced, tech-savvy world, what significance could a World War I hangar possibly have? For Colonel Alan Pease and Colonel Ann Marie Pease, Hangar 9 at Brooks represents an arc of history and a pathway to today.
The Peases were first stationed at Brooks in 1982, when it was still rare to find a married couple both on active duty. Even more unusual, they moved to San Antonio with a 5-year-old daughter and left in 1986 with a newborn son.
“We were often the first married couple in the service that people would meet,” said Ann Marie. “We were also one of the first to start a family and both remain on active duty. When we arrived at Brooks, the base already had a long history starting with the early years of military aviation, continuing with medical research into the increasing physiological demands of flying high-performance aircraft and, support for President Kennedy’s ambitious goal to send a man to the moon with its mission as our nation’s Aerospace Medical Center.”
At the School of Aerospace Medicine, Ann Marie oversaw administration supporting education programs for flight surgeons and nurses, bioenvironmental engineers, aerospace physiologists, and public health officers. All were focused on the flying mission and its unique physical demands.
“All the physicians in training had to experience the same thing that pilots and astronauts experience in their flying missions,” she said.
Pilots and medical personnel were subjected to oxygen-enriched atmospheres and spent time training in a human centrifuge chamber trying to stay alert and carry out tasks while fighting GLOC (gravity-induced loss of consciousness).
“All of this remarkable research and teaching was supported by paper-based documentation and mainframe computers located in specialized centers,” said Col. Alan Pease. “The first ‘personal computers’ that an individual scientist could use to perform analyses weren’t being produced commercially until the mid-1980s. This was the way they did it before the Internet. You realize you are standing on the shoulders of those who came before you.”
In the 90’s, Ann Marie was assigned to Lackland AFB and then Kelly (before it closed), and Alan returned to Brooks. His initial work in the Surgeon General’s Information Systems Division included integration and deployment of medical information technology into medical treatment facilities as well as field hospitals.
In 1993, the Peases had an opportunity at Brooks to experience the Internet for the first time. “I was just in awe,” Ann Marie said. “The screen and keyboard took us to Australia to a medical institute where we could access their library. It was the most fantastic thing in the world. I could not believe what I was seeing on that greenish screen.”
As the Cold War era gave way to conflicts in the Middle East, medical support needs were changing and required increased emphasis on acquisition programs to develop and field new systems. The Human Systems Program Office at Brooks, where Alan later worked, became a vital hub for this effort. Smaller, “chemically hardened” medical assemblages were developed that could be loaded onto airplanes, deployed in a chemical weapons war zone, and used to treat decontaminated patients in an environment with safe, filtered air.
Air Mobility Command’s aeromedical evacuation units needed capabilities to receive and transfer combat casualties and the information on their medical conditions more rapidly to medical centers best able to care for them. Another high priority was providing status of patients to worried family members anxious for news. Ultimately, Air Mobility Command turned to the Human Systems Program Office to develop and successfully deploy this system.
“That doesn’t seem like it has a direct impact on combat operations until you think about how much improved survival rates mean to war fighters and their families,” Alan said. “Some of our work at Brooks really laid the foundation for many of the successes military medics are achieving today.”
When Alan retired in 1998, his ceremony was held at Hangar 9 when it will still a museum.
“You could go there and have a sense of being surrounded by a remarkable part of Air Force history –– the development of manned flight and the evolution of aviation medicine,” he said. “Hangar 9 was a special place for everyone at Brooks.”
As time marches on and miracles turn mundane, sometimes it’s good to turn around and reflect upon the past. One way to do that is by preserving reminders like Hangar 9.
“Just as a lot of history at Brooks Air Force Base was about helping humans to adapt to the demands of the aerospace environment and new technologies, I think that seeing Hangar 9 adapt from its original purpose and its history at Brooks into the kind of venue that is coming now is very fitting. It’s very satisfying to see this happen.”
Brooks will celebrate the grand opening of the restored Hangar 9, a $2.8 million project to transform the historic wooden hangar into an event space to host weddings, quinceañeras, business functions or galas, and other special events. On the cusp of its 100th birthday, Hangar 9 has long since retired its work housing “Jenny” aircraft during World War I and will soon embrace its new role as a community event space. Built in 1918, Hangar 9 is the oldest wooden aircraft hangar of its kind still standing in the original location.