403rd Wing [403rd WG]
The 403rd Wing is the largest flying organization at Keesler AFB, and the only Air Force Reserve Command wing in Mississippi. With a military manning authorization of more than 1,400 reservists, including some 250 full-time air reserve technicians, the 403rd Wing performs a dual mission: tactical airlift support during peace- and war-time contingencies, and aerial weather reconnaissance in support of the Department of Commerce.
The wing's predecessor -- the 403rd Troop Carrier Group -- whose history and honors it inherited, was activated in 1942. Equipped with C-47 Skytrain (cargo/passenger) aircraft, it participated in seven major campaigns in the South Pacific during World War II. The 403rd was inactivated at the war's end, and reactivated June 27, 1949, as a Reserve unit at Portland, OR. In April 1951, the unit was called to active duty and deployed to Japan to participate in the war effort in Korea. It returned to Portland in 1953 and remained there until 1957, when it moved to Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., and was reequipped with C-119 Packet (Flying Boxcar) aircraft.
The wing was called to active duty again for 31 days during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
In the spring of 1966, the 403rd earmarked the best of its C-119s for duty in Vietnam as gunships. The last C-119 transferred out in July 1969 and the wing was reequipped with U-3A aircraft and given a forward air control mission. Then, in December 1969, the unit was redesignated the 403rd Composite Wing with administrative responsibilities for two tactical airlift groups and a special operations squadron.
On June 29, 1971, the wing was given a tactical airlift mission, redesignated the 403rd Tactical Airlift Wing and reequipped with the C-130A Hercules.
From 1972 to 1975, the wing's participation in humanitarian airlift missions was especially heavy, a result of many natural disasters occurring at home and abroad, such as the floods in New York and Pennsylvania in 1973 and Hurricane Fifi in Honduras in 1974. Also during this period, 403rd aircrews were busy ferrying aircraft supplies and equipment to Southeast Asia. In the spring of 1975, the wing was among the last forces to leave Vietnam.
On March 15, 1976, the 403rd was redesignated the 403rd Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Wing, with operational control of the four rescue squadrons assigned to the Air Force Reserve. On January 1, 1977, the wing assumed a weather reconnaissance mission, and changed its name to the 403rd Rescue and Weather Reconnaissance Wing.
By December 1979, the wing's four rescue squadrons had been credited with saving at least 199 lives and the 815th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron had flown more than 70 percent of the hurricane missions in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.
The new decade placed the wing in the midst of several interesting projects. In 1980, the 403rd supported the XIII Winter Olympics at Plattsburgh, NY. Also that year, the wing was credited with saving 61 lives during the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in May.
In April 1981, the wing provided rescue support for the first flight of the space shuttle "Columbia." The wing continued to support the space shuttle program until February 1984.
In May 1982, the wing conducted the largest combat rescue training exercise in the history of the Air Force Reserve. Over 40 aircraft and 1,100 airmen representing 67 units participated in the simulated combat training exercise. The 403rd was honored as the Air Force Association's Reserve Wing of the Year in September 1982. The wing was cited for its exemplary accomplishments including saving 58 lives that year and providing flawless rescue coverage for the space shuttle program.
In November 1983, the 403rd headquarters moved to Keesler AFB, MS, where it continued its operational control of the Reserve's rescue and weather reconnaissance operations.
In December 1987, the 403rd was redesignated a tactical airlift wing; however, the unit continued to maintain a limited weather reconnaissance mission through the 815th Weather Flight and 34th Air Weather Flight. Control of the Reserve's rescue units was transferred to the 939th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group at Portland International Airport, Portland, OR.
After a two-year conversion period to tactical airlift, the 403rd began its suppport of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) by joining the Volant Oak rotation. Volant Oak is a commitment shared by the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard to fly cargo and passengers within Central and South America for SOUTHCOM and airlift support for U.S. embassies in that region.
In December 1989, during the 403rd's first deployment to Panama, aircrews provided airlift support for Operation Just Cause, the U.S. military effort to restore democracy to that country and oust Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega. In Operation Just Cause, aircrews and maintenance personnel supported the airlift of combat troops, equipment, humanitarian supplies, detainees and captured weapons. They also evacuated wounded American military personnel from Panama to the United States.
After the Iraqi invasion of neighboring Kuwait in August 1990, and the onset of Operation Desert Shield, members of the 403rd volunteered for and performed duty in the Middle East. Unit members provided airlift support in the multi-national effort to stop Iraq from further expansion in that region. Shortly after the start of Operation Desert Storm in January 1991, all medical personnel assigned to the 403rd were mobilized in support of the wartime effort. The medics were assigned to the Keesler Medical Center for two months to backfill for active-duty personnel deployed to Europe for the contingencies.
In July 1991, 14 members of the 41st Mobile Aerial Port Squadron deployed to Incirlik AB, Turkey, in support of Operation Provide Comfort, the United Nations relief effort to aid Kurdish refugees from Northern Iraq.
The 403rd was redesignated an airlift wing in February 1992 as part of an Air Force-wide structuring. In June 1992, the wing transitioned into the new objective wing structure and was reassigned under 14th Air Force (Reserve). Included in that change was the loss of the 934th Airlift Group as a subordinate unit and the gain of two units: the 908th Airlift Group at Maxwell AFB, AL, and the 913th Airlift Group at Willow Grove, PA.
August 1992 found the wing in the middle of Hurricane Andrew, first by supplying aircraft and crews from the 815th Weather Squadron to perform aerial reconnaissance of the storm, then by supplying aircraft and crews from the 815th Airlift Squadron to provide transportation for emergency relief supplies into the Homestead area in Florida. The 403rd also became the primary ground station for collecting airborne weather data when the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, FL, lost its antenna in the storm.
In September, crews from the 815th Airlift Squadron left Keesler for Mombasa, Kenya in support of the United Nations relief effort Operation Provide Relief in neighboring Somalia. The relief effort lasted for several months, and delivered tons of food and medical supplies to people in the drought-stricken area.
The 815th Airlift Squadron was back on the road again in early February 1993, assisting in relief efforts in war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina. The 815th's involvement in Operation Provide Promise went on until June 1994 - more than a year - and was supported by aircraft from the 815th AS and crews from both flying squadrons.
In May, the 403rd Security Police Flight deployed to Aviano, Italy, for two weeks, supporting Operation Deny Flight by integrating with local security police to provide flightline security and protect the F-15s which flew the Deny Flight missions. On several occasions during the year-long relief effort, the 403rd took on the responsibilities of lead wing, coordinating aircrew and maintenance activities out of Rhein-Main AB, Germany.
In April 1993, wing aircraft underwent a major conversion, changing weather reconnaissance C-130 Super E models into H models. The on-site renovation project was a first-ever effort to convert aircraft at the aircraft's home base.
In October, all C-130s assigned previously to the Air Mobility Command, became assets of Air Combat Command.
In November 1992, the 815th Weather Squadron was replaced with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. The former active-duty weather squadron had been deactivated June 30, 1990. Originally activated in 1944, the 53rd WRS celebrated its 50-year milestone in 1994. It is the only military unit in the world flying weather reconnaissance on a routine basis.
In July 1994, the 403rd Airlift Wing became the 403rd Wing, the third AFRES wing to be designated a composite wing. The change was made to more accurately depict the dual nature of the wing's missions: airlift and weather.
In September 1994, a scant two months after the 815th Airlift Squadron support of Operation Provide Promise ended, the squadron was flying out again in support of an overseas operation - Uphold Democracy - in Haiti. Rather than airlifting combat forces to Haiti, as originally planned, the crews transported peacekeepers and supplies to staging areas near the island nation.
In November 1994, crews from the 815th Airlift Squadron found themselves back in Turkey, supporting supply missions between Rhein-Main AB, Germany, and Incirlik AB, Turkey. Many of the supplies flown in were in support of Operation Provide Comfort, a Kurdish relief effort in Northern Iraq.
The 403rd and its "Hurricane Hunters" are responsible for all weather reconnaissance missions flown with the Department of Defense. Upon mobilization, the 403rd Wing gained by the Air Mobility Command, supports the theater commander by flying air land/air drop missions within the combat zone or forward area. When required, the wing performs aeromedical-refugee evacuation and augmentation of strategic airlift forces. To train and perform its missions, the 403rd Wing is authorized eight C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, and 10 WC-130s, specially equipped with weather-gathering instrumentation.
Three groups, 10 squadrons and flights are collocated with the wing - the 403rd Operations Group, 403rd Logistics Group, 403rd Support Group, 403rd Aeromedical Staging Squadron, 41st Aerial Port Squadron, 403rd Civil Engineer Squadron, 403rd Logistics Support Squadron, 403rd Maintenance Squadron, 403rd Mission Support Squadron, 403rd Security Forces Squadron, 815th Airlift Squadron, 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, 403rd Communications Flight and 403rd Operations Support Flight. The 403rd Wing also oversees the 96th Aerial Port Squadron, Little Rock Air Force Base, AR.
The peacetime mission of the 403rd Wing is to provide command and staff supervision to assigned squadrons and flights which support tactical airlift missions. These missions include airlift of personnel, equipment and supplies. Additionally, the wing is the only unit in the Department of Defense tasked to organize, equip, train and perform all hurricane weather reconnaissance in support of the Department of Commerce.
During wartime, the 403rd is gained upon mobilization by the Air Mobility Command and will execute missions in support of the theater commander, such as resupply, employment operations within the combat zone or forward area, and when required, aeromedical refugee evacuation and augmentation of other airlift forces.
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