White Rectangle

What’s the origin of the 152nd's ‘High Rollers' nickname?

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Emerson Marcus
  • Joint Force Headquarters Public Affairs
The 152nd Airlift Wing's "High Rollers" motto dates back more than three decades at about the same time the unit began its dominant run in tactical aerial reconnaissance competitions.

"When we started doing photo competitions other units started calling us that, saying, 'Here come the High Rollers from Reno,'" retired Chief Master Sgt. John Ternau said.

While many interviewed for this story alluded to its origins when RF-101 jets occupied the flight line (1965-1975), the consensus points to the term's popularization in the 1980s, especially after an "Airman Magazine" article referencing the unit.

The term certainly alludes to Reno's reputation as a gambling town. Merriam-Webster defines a high roller as a "rich person who spends a lot of money" and a "person who gambles large amounts of money."

But it wasn't simply about gambling. The 152nd Reconnaissance Group -- the unit's designation before its tactical airlift mission began in 1996 -- was increasingly becoming known for its success in aerial reconnaissance competitions. So, a certain swagger the unit carried supported the nickname.

However, the first known printed reference to "High Rollers" appears in a 1980 "Airman Magazine" article with the headline: "The High Rollers from Reno."

According to article: "The group didn't gain its reputation on the basis of sleight-of-hand maneuvers...the 152nd got to the top because nobody does it better."

In 1978, Nevada beat seven Air National Guard and two active duty units at the annual Photo Finish reconnaissance meet. Its success in the competition -- winning best day-reconnaissance team, best day-reconnaissance crew and best overall photo interpretation team -- impressed many in the reconnaissance world, including Capt. Dick Sheffield, a reporter for "Airman Magazine."

According to Sheffield's article in 1980: "They (the 152nd), of course, already have been recognized as having a winning hand, these high rollers from Reno. To mix a metaphor, the margin of victory hasn't been nearly as close as a photo finish."

The following year, the unit's publication, "Phantom Phyler," referenced the motto in its October 1981 issue. The headline read "Reno's 'HIGH ROLLERS'" as the unit prepared later that month for the Photo Finish reconnaissance championships in Gulfport, Miss.

Next to the headline of the story appears a photo of one of the unit's RF-4C aircraft with the tail flash "High Rollers" and "Reno" on the rudder.

"The first use of the High Roller fin cap was in the summer of 1981 when we prepared for the Photo Finish competition," retired Col. Rick Harvey said in an email. Harvey also provided a photo of the F-4 he flew during the Photo Finish competition that year. "This photo was taken right after the fin cap and the competition paint scheme was applied to our jets going to Photo Finish."

As the decade continued, the unit won many more competitions, including the Reconnaissance Air Meet (RAM) competitions twice (1986 and 1990).

On June 15, 1988, the Department of the Air Force approved the unit's proposed change of its official motto from "Eyes of Victory" to "High Rollers."