6th Air Refueling Wing [6th ARW]


6th Air Refueling Wing [6th ARW]

The 6th Air Refueling Wing, located at MacDill Air Force Base, FL, began its history on September 30, 1919, as the 3rd Observation Group at France Field in the Panama Canal Zone. Its original mission included training, participating in maneuvers, flying patrol missions, photographing the canal area, staging aerial reviews and making good will flights to Central and South American countries.

In 1921, the group was redesignated the 6th Group (Observation); then, in 1922, the 6th Group (Composite). During this period the 6th flew such aircraft as the Curtiss R-4, DeHavilland 4-B, SE-5A, MB-3A, P-12B, and Martin B-10. The mission of the 6th moved toward bombing in 1937 when the war department renamed it the 6th Bombardment Group. The group continued to operate in the Canal Zone under the VI Bomber Command of the 6th Air Force until October 31, 1943, when it inactivated.

Five and one-half months later, April 19, 1944, the 6th reactivated at Dalhart Army Airfield, TX, where its air crews trained in the new highly secretive B-29 for deployment to the Pacific Theater. By December 28, after additional training at Grand Island, NE, the 6th deployed to North Field, Tinian, under 20th Air Force, where it entered World War II by flying navigational escort for a major attack force bound for Iwo Jima.

The 6th's aircraft struck Tokyo and other major Japanese cities and facilities during daylight high altitude bombing raids, destroying communication and supply lines, and numerous kamikaze bases. The 6th flew a night mission at low altitude May 25, 1945, through alerted enemy defenses to drop incendiary bombs on Tokyo, for which the unit received its first Distinguished Unit Citation. In addition to incendiary raids, the group also participated in mining operations. By mining harbors in Japan and Korea in July 1945, the group contributed to the downfall of the Japanese Empire, and earned its second Distinguished Unit Citation. The 6th's final mission was August 14, 1945, bombing the Martin railroad yards at lwakuni. With the war over, the 6th dropped food and supplies to Allied prisoners and took part in show-of-force flights over Japan. In January 1946, the 6th Bombardment Group relocated to Clark Field, Luzon, Philippines, and in June 1947, to Kadena, Okinawa, where it inactivated October 18, 1948.

Resulting from hostilities in Korea, the 6th reactivated January 2, 1951, as the 6th Bombardment Group (Heavy) and began flying the formidable B-36 at Walker Air Force Base, NM. The B-52 Stratofortress replaced the wing's B-36 in 1957, and KC-135 Stratotankers began arriving in April 1958.

As the Soviet missile threat increased, so did the 6th's mission. With the arrival of the wing's first Atlas-F SM65 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile May 1, 1962, came another name change - the 6th Strategic Aerospace Wing. The missile mission lasted until 1965, when Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara announced the inactivation of the wing. The inactivation never happened as the 6th was transferred to Eielson Air Force Base, AK, without equipment or people, on March 25, 1967. Replacing the 4157th Strategic Wing, the wing was renamed the 6th Strategic Wing.

The 6th returned to reconnaissance when it gained the modern, state-of-the-art RC-135 jet aircraft. The 6th Strategic Wing maintained a detachment at Shemya Air Force Base, AK, in addition to maintaining the Alaskan Tanker Task Force in support of strategic reconnaissance and North American Air Defense intercept sorties. Strategic Air Command renamed it the 6th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing April 1, 1988.

Announcement of the 6th's most recent inactivation came in December 1991, as the mission of the 6th transferred to the 55th Wing at Offutt Air Force Base, NE, and the mission of the Alaskan Tanker Task Force was terminated. The 6th inactivated September 1, 1992, at Eielson.

The 6th reactivated as the 6th Air Base Wing at MacDill January 4, 1994, with a main mission of supporting two unified commands, U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Central Command. The mission of the 6th at MacDill during 1994 and 1995 included hosting several high visibility operations. In September 1994, the wing supported Operation Restore Democracy by hosting C-130 units from Texas, Arkansas and North Carolina. MacDill's strategic location and outstanding airfield capabilities were highlighted when the wing supported 62 aircraft and 562 flying missions in the two-week long operation.

In 1995, the wing hosted several Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission visits. Efforts of the wing to showcase MacDill's key attributes and potential for future use by the Air Force resulted in the commission's recommendation to reopen the flight line and to transfer a squadron of KC-135 Stratotankers to MacDill in 1996.

In accordance with congressional legislation and by orders of the Secretary of the Air Force, the 6th Air Base Wing was relieved of assignment to Air Combat Command, further redesignated as 6th Air Refueling Wing and assigned to 21st Air Force under Air Mobility Command October 1, 1996.

The wing is tasked with planning and executing global aerial refueling, commander in chief airlift, and specialized missions for US and allied combat and support aircraft. The wing extends US global power and global reach through employment of 12 KC-135R, 1 EC-135, and 1 CT-43 aircraft.

In its 2005 BRAC Recommendations, DoD recommended to realign Grand Forks Air Force Base (AFB), ND. It would distribute the 319th Air Refueling Wing's KC-135R aircraft to the 6th Air Mobility Wing, MacDill AFB, FL (four aircraft) and several other installations. The 6th would host a Reserve association with 927th Air Refueling Wing (AFR) manpower realigned from Selfridge ANGB, MI. DoD recommended this realignment because MacDill's military value ranking was better than that of Grand Forks. The additional aircraft at MacDill would optimize the unit size, establish a new active duty/Air Force Reserve association to enhance unit capability, and preserve sufficient capacity for future beddown of the next generation tanker aircraft.

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