Navigating the Depths of History: A Journey in the Archives


By Sarah L. Neal

This post is from our 2024 Spring Internship series.

The past three months have been a whirlwind of excitement and progress as I delved deeper into the historical treasures of 37th Training Wing’s Historical archive. Amidst the chaos of tours, working on my master’s degree, and raising a family, I have managed to carve out time to immerse myself in the captivating world of Air Force history.

The primary mission of the Office of History and Research is the preparation and publication of an annual historical report of the 37th Training Wing for the wing commander. The office also responds to requests for information from the wing commander, members of the staff, other offices and units within the 37th Training Wing, tenant units, other DoD and government agencies, and the public. As we are the largest wing-level history office in the Air Force we oversee and preserve the Lackland Gateway Archive Collection consisting of the published histories of the 37th Training Wing and its predecessor organizations and those of Kelly Field. We have more than 80K+ photographs along with 100K+ documents in the collection.

One example of a small item in our collection that has a powerful meaning but would be overlooked by many is the following letter and its contents. The letter is sent by a retired Chief Master Sergeant, the highest enlisted rank in Air Force, and it explains that the enclosed item is a Christmas Dinner Menu for the first ever Christmas Dinner for the newly formed US Air Force back in December 1948! While this might not seem important, it was. You see this was the first Air Force Christmas Dinner and started a long-lasting tradition of Christmas dinners for Basic Trainees and deployed persons all over the world for the next 70+ years. When current and former Air Force members see this menu, many of us would think back to our basic training days and our deployments and remember how much a small thing like an old-fashioned American Christmas Dinner mean to us all. It is these small pieces of military history and nostalgia that need to be preserved along with documents that might appear more important.

One highlight of these weeks has been the significant strides I have made on the Lackland Monuments and Memorials book and in the Lackland Special Series (LSS) collection. The Lackland Monuments and Memorials book, which I have taken under my wing, is undergoing a massive transformation. With a redesigned layout and enhanced user-friendliness, it is shaping up to be a cornerstone of Lackland AFB’s historical narrative. My supervisors, Mr. Tracey English and Mr. Eddie Paniagua’s enthusiastic approval of the revamped design only fuels my determination to make this into my capstone project.

Simultaneously, progress on the LSS collection has been nothing short of remarkable. Moving from volume 1 to volume 28 out of 78 is no small feat, considering the vast array of items contained within each volume. From General Orders to personal letters dating back to the early 1900s, the richness of military aviation history within these volumes is truly astonishing.

Amidst these accomplishments, a lingering question arises: should an archive display its most intriguing items? The debate between maintaining a strictly archival setup versus incorporating museum-like displays is ongoing. As the 37th Training Wing Historical Office, I believe in striking a balance between preserving history in its raw form and showcasing noteworthy artifacts to engage and inspire visitors. Alas, this is not my decision — after all, I am only an intern.

However, I will have to admit that the past two weeks have not been without their challenges. Balancing archival duties with the demands of a busy tourism season has made balancing my internship with the needs of my business quite the juggling act. Despite this, I have remained committed to my internship, seizing every opportunity to contribute to the organization’s mission.

As I continue to immerse myself in these projects, I am driven by a desire to make a meaningful contribution to the organization. Whether it is through archival research or writing factual accounts for the Museum book, every task brings me closer to my goal of becoming an invaluable asset to the team.

As my time with the 37th TRW ends, I find myself reflecting on my experiences over the last 3 months, I find solace and satisfaction in the intricate work of uncovering forgotten Air Force history. The archival tasks may seem mundane to some, but to me, they offer a glimpse into the rich tapestry of our past and I am proud to have been able to play a small role in preserving that past for future generations to enjoy.

If you are interested in military history or if you simply like to look at cool old photographs, you can follow the 37th TRW on Facebook at  or online at

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