19th Air Refueling Group [19th ARG]
The 19th Air Refueling Group is one of the oldest organizations in the United States Air Force. The group has served in two world wars and four armed conflicts, and has earned the distinction of being one of the most decorated units in the Air Force. Unit honors include eight Presidential Unit Citations, five Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards, one Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, and one Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation. The group motto is "Checkmate to Aggression". The "Black Knights" of the 19th ARG fly the KC-135 Stratotanker.
The group was first constituted on 18 October 1927, as the 19th Observation Group, an inactive unit of the Army Air Corps. In March 1932, the unit was redesignated as the 19th Bombardment Group at Rockwell Army Air Field, California. In 1941, the group made aviation history as a mass flight of its heavy B-17C bombers, flew 2,400 miles from the West Coast to Hawaii. By October of that year, the 19th was transferred to the Philippines and prepared to function as the long-range strike arm of the Far East Air Force.
However, on 8 December 1941, the group was caught on the ground at Clark Air Field and lost half its aircraft to a Japanese aerial attack. With the remaining aircraft, the 19th Bombardment Group was the first United States bomb unit to strike back at the Japanese by attacking their ships during the Japanese invasion two days later. The 19th was forced to withdraw to Australia. General MacArthur and his family were also evacuated aboard a 19th Bomb Group B-17. From Australia, the 19th supported the first significant US victory of the war in the Battle of the Coral Sea. Later, they successfully attacked the Japanese stronghold at Rabaul, where Captain Harl Pease earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. The 19th was fitted with B-29's in 1944. Flying from North Army Air Field, Guam, the 19th attacked targets in the Japanese home islands. Having flown the first bombardment missions against the Japanese, the 19th earned the distinction of flying the last conventional bombing mission of the war. Only one of the 19th's original B-17s survived the war. Nicknamed "Alexander the Swoose," it now holds a place of honor in the Smithsonian Institute's National Air and Space Museum. At the close of World War II, the 19th Bombardment Group remained on Guam as a peacekeeping force in the Pacific. Within 48 hours following the Communist invasion of South Korea, the group was flying B-29 combat missions from Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, in support of United Nations ground forces. As in World War II, the group was the first bombardment unit to attack the enemy and again flew a mission on the last day of the conflict.
In 1954, the 19th was transferred to Pinecastle (later McCoy) AFB, Florida, and became part of the Strategic Air Command. On its flight from Guam to Pinecastle AFB, the wing delivered its tired, old B-29s to Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, and picked up new B-47 jet bombers. The following year the wing moved to Homestead AFB, Florida, and in 1961 transitioned to the B-52 Stratofortress and the KC-135 Stratotanker.
During the United States military operations in Southeast Asia, the 19th provided aircraft and personnel to bases in Guam, Okinawa, and Thailand. Throughout this era, aircraft from the unit logged nearly 23,400 combat support hours. In 1968, the 19th moved to Robins AFB, Georgia.
On 1 October 1983, the wing was redesignated the 19th Air Refueling Wing. The wing's sole mission was to provide aerial refueling for receiver aircraft of all types. In 1984, the wing was also given the responsibility for maintaining and flying the EC-135Y Command, Control, and Communications aircraft to support the new United States Central Command. In 1987, an EC-135N was assigned to augment the USCENTCOM mission.
On 10 February 1986, the first KC-135R model Stratotanker arrived at the 19th. On 19 November 1988, the wing and the KC-135R made aviation history when they flew to world records in four different weight classes. That event, documented in international record books, set 16 world time-to-climb records, 3 of which were previously held by the Soviet YAK-42 transport aircraft.
At the close of 1989 and early 1990, during Operation JUST CAUSE, the 19th provided an air bridge to Panama for participating aircrews and support personnel. The wing received the Richard D. Trouser Trophy for outstanding accomplishments made by the 99th and 912th Air Refueling Squadrons for their action in that operation. Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM also required aerial refueling support from the 19th. These operations provided the wing an unprecedented challenge. In the first 60 days of DESERT SHIELD, the 19th deployed more than half its operational aircraft and one-third of its personnel to support more than 160 deploying fighter and airlift aircraft. During DESERT STORM, 17 January through 28 February 1991, the wing flew 6,798.9 hours, 1,357 sorties, and off-loaded more than 58.8 million pound of fuel while maintaining a 92 percent mission capable rate.
The 19th was called upon to deploy more aircraft in February 1991, when it became the lead unit of the first American forces in Mont de Marsan, France, in more than 20 years. While there, crews flew 201 sorties and delivered 13.5 million pounds of fuel to B-52 strike aircraft. The wing later deployed and operated from Cairo West, Egypt, in April and May 1991 in support of Operation PROUD RETURN.
In the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, the nation's war on drugs increased and another facet was added to the wing's mission. The 19th's tankers provided vital air refueling services for the E-3 AWACS aircraft on patrol along the southern border. Because of the wing's strategic location in the southeast and the unique nature of the antidrug effort, the 19th kept at least one of its KC-135Rs on a constant alert for short notice refueling missions. In June 1991, counternarcotics operations expanded and the 19th became the lead unit for tanker support at Task Group 4.2 Forward, Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. The wing earned the Joint Meritorious Unit Award for its participation in the antidrug effort.
On 1 June 1992, the Strategic Air Command inactivated and the 19th became part of the new Air Mobility Command. As part of the Objective Wing reorganization, the 19th became parent wing for the 7th Air Refueling Squadron, Carswell AFB, TX, and the 384th Air Refueling Squadron, McConnell AFB, KS.
In August 1992, the wing deployed aircraft, crews, and personnel once again to Saudi Arabia to support Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. Four months later, the 19th was tasked to provide air refueling support for Operation RESTORE HOPE, the humanitarian relief effort in Somalia. By January 1993, the wing had deployed 16 aircraft to Moron Air Base, Spain. On 16 February 1993, the Moron Tanker Task Force flew its last RESTORE HOPE air refueling mission. The 614 missions flown by the 19th represented more than half of all worldwide refueling done since the start of the Somalian relief effort. During the operation, wing tankers flew 2,562.4 hours and off-loaded 43.1 million pounds of fuel, while maintaining 100 percent mission effectiveness.
On 1 July 1993, the 457th Operations Group activated at Altus AFB, OK, adding the 11th and the 306th Air Refueling Squadrons to the wing. In late July 1993, the wing deployed to Lajes Air Base, Azores to support Operation DENY FLIGHT. In October, the 19th deployed aircraft and support to RAF Mildenhall, England, and Souda Bay, Crete. These missions and others throughout the year earned the unit the 21st Air Force Outstanding Flying Unit of the Year and the Maintenance Effectiveness Award for 1993.
The 19th Air Refueling Wing continued its reputation as a pioneer by producing a cargo system for the KC-135. Modifying rollers from grounded C-141s, 19th personnel constructed six roller packages for KC-135 use in just over 24 hours. Soon thereafter, 60 additional roller packages were constructed by combining C-5 and C-141 roller systems.
The year 1994 proved to be one of the most successful years ever enjoyed by the 19th. Operationally, the 19th started 1994 with the first ever Integral Tanker Unit Deployment (ITUD) to the European Tanker Task Force. Later in September, when the United States made the decision to move forces into Haiti under the nickname Operation UPHOLD DEMOCRACY, the Black Knights were tasked to setup the Robins Tanker Task Force to provide support for combat and cargo aircraft. Although the invasion was averted at the last minute, the task force flew 101 of 201 planned missions, logged 616.6 flying hours, and off-loaded 5.24 million pounds of fuel. While Operation UPHOLD DEMOCRACY was going on, the 712th Air Refueling Squadron was preparing for an Istres, France, deployment in support of NATO aircraft and Operation DENY FLIGHT. By October 1994, the 19th was smaller, its Carswell AFB, McConnell AFB and Altus AFB squadrons having been inactivated, but the wing's accomplishments were noteworthy. In June, the Black Knights became the first tanker unit to win the prestigious General William G. Moore Trophy at Air Mobility Command's RODEO '94. This award signifies the Best Air Mobility Wing and is the ultimate award in the competition. The 19th also earned numerous safety awards, the Maintenance Effectiveness Award and the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award. The 19th opened 1995 the same way it ended 1994, by supporting Operation DENY FLIGHT. This time, the wing deployed to Pisa, Italy, in mid-January. In late October, the 19th had its first Operational Readiness Inspection under AMC. Hard work and diligent preparation paid off as the Black Knights earned an "Excellent" rating. Taking to the European skies a second time in 1995, the two flying squadrons (the 77th and 912th Air Refueling Squadrons) again supported Operations DENY FLIGHT from July through October at Istres, France. A higher sortie tempo over the Bosnian no-fly zone resulted in the wing delivering 18,078 million pounds of fuel to 2,034 receivers, an increase of 7.1 million pounds of fuel off-loaded over the Pisa deployment.
From January through April 1996, the 19th deployed six aircraft to Southwest Asia for Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, and in early April, deployed five aircraft to Turkey for Operation PROVIDE COMFORT. Both of these operations again found the Black Knights over the skies of Iraq enforcing the "no-fly" zone. In June 1996, the Black Knights earned for the second time the prestigious title of "Best Air Mobility Wing" at the international RODEO competition. It was the first back-to-back title for any organization in the history of the Air Force. On 1 July 1996, the 19th Air Refueling Wing downsized from the 19th Air Refueling Wing to the 19th Air Refueling Group. The current group consists of four squadrons: 19th Operations Support Squadron, 19th Maintenance Squadron, 19th Aircraft Generation Squadron, and the 99th Air Refueling Squadron.
The Black Knights returned to Istres, France, in August 1996 deploying five aircraft and 125 personnel in support of Operation DENY FLIGHT. In December, the group received an inspection from the Air Mobility Command's Quality Air Force Assessment Team. During the inspection, the team found the 19th's leadership, support, and maintenance to be among the best in Air Mobility Command.
Black Knight aircraft and personnel deployed to numerous contingency operations and exercises during 1997 and continued the group's record for success. 1998 proved to be another banner year for the 19th. Most notably, the Black Knights supported Operations NORTHERN WATCH, enforcing the no-fly zone in northern Iraq; DESERT THUNDER, US action against Iraqi aggression; and CONSTANT VIGIL, US antidrug operations in the Caribbean. The 99th Air Refueling Squadron was named the Air Force Association's Citation of Honor winner for the unit that contributed most to national defense during 1998. Additionally, the 99th won the coveted General Carl A. Spaatz Trophy for 1998--given annually to the "Best Air Refueling Squadron in the US Air Force".
1999 saw the 19th earn a rare, perfect "Outstanding" during its Headquarters, Air Mobility Command Operational Readiness Inspection and turning out its 100th depot-level, Bluesuiter maintenance C-141 aircraft. Additionally, the 19th returned from supporting Operations DELIBERATE FORGE and ALLIED FORCE, US support for the NATO's Air War over the Former Republic of Yugoslavia-having deployed over three-fourths of its personnel and aircraft to four forward operating locations throughout Europe.
The mission of the 19th Air Refueling Group is to provide worldwide in-flight refueling for intercontinental and intertheater combat, logistics, and combat support aircraft of the United States and its allies as directed by the Department of Defense. The 19th maintains constant readiness to implement immediate, sustained, long-range aerial refueling to satisfy the requirements of the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), contingency, and special operations missions.
The 19th operates KC-135R aircraft and provides rapidly deployable air refueling and airlift capability worldwide. Additionally, the 19th supports all Air Mobility Command C-141 and C-5 wings by providing integrated field level inspections and field level maintenance while command aircraft are undergoing air logistics center depot repairs.
In its 2005 BRAC Recommendations, DoD recommended to realign Robins Air Force Base by distributing the 19th Air Refueling Group's KC- 135R aircraft to the 22nd Air Refueling Wing, McConnell Air Force Base, KS (nine aircraft), and to backup aircraft inventory (three aircraft). This recommendation would realign active duty KC-135R aircraft from Robins (18) to McConnell (15), a base higher in military value for the tanker mission and with available capacity to receive the additional aircraft at no cost. This consolidation would increase McConnell's active duty tanker squadrons to optimum size. The vacated infrastructure and capacity resulting from the realignment of the tenant 19th Air Refueling Group would accommodate U.S. Navy aircraft realigning to Robins from Naval Air Station Atlanta.
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