121st Air Refueling Wing
The 121st Air Refueling Wing was originally established as the 55th Fighter Wing in December 1947 and it caries the lineage of the 55th Bombardment Wing of WW II. Its original flying unit, the 166th Air Refueling Squadron, was established as the 166th Tactical Fighter Squadron in August 1946 and its WW II lineage is the 364th Fighter Squadron. The units were located at Lockbourne Air Force Base, Ohio. Aircraft flown during these early years included the T-6, A-26, P-47, and P-51.
The 55th was redesignated as the 121st Fighter Wing in November 1950 flying The 166th was activated in 1951 for the Korean Conflict and was assigned an air defense mission. Many of its personnel were additionally reassigned to other units for duty in Korea and other overseas locations. In 1954, the F-80C Shooting Star arrived and the wing continued with an air defense mission. F-84E aircraft were received in 1955 followed by the F-84F in 1957, which brought with it a fighter-bomber mission.
In October 1961, the wing was called to active duty for the Berlin Crisis. The 166th and additional augmenting personnel deployed to Etain AB, France, where they served with distinction until redeploying in August 1962. The unit next converted to the F-100C Super Sabre, which greatly enhanced its mission capabilities. Another call-up to active duty occurred in 1968 as a result of the USS Pueblo Crisis. One year of the 18-month activation was spent in Kunsan AB, South Korea. During the deployment some pilots flew combat missions in Vietnam while performing temporary assignments with other units. Aircraft and personnel returned home in June 1969. An aircraft upgrade to the F-100D was accomplished in 1971.
Under the “Total Force Policy,” Guard and Reserve units began to receive newer aircraft and equipment in the 1970's. The 121st began conversion to the A-7D Corsair II in 1974 which brought with it additional missions. In the same year Lockbourne AFB was renamed Rickenbacker AFB in honor of Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, the WW I “Ace of Aces” and a Columbus, Ohio native. When the active duty units departed in 1979, Rickenbacker became an Air National Guard Base with the 121st as its largest flying unit.
The 1980's brought new and more demanding tasks when the 121st became part of the “Rapid Deployment Force” and was ultimately integrated into war plans as a part of U.S. Central Command. Training for this high priority mission was intense and included many deployments, exercises and evaluations. Although the wing was not recalled for the Gulf War of 1991, it provided support for operations at home station while smaller elements and individuals served as active duty augmentees in several locations. The 121st Security Forces Squadron was activated and deployed to the Persian Gulf in November 1990. Stationed at Shaik Isa AB, Bahrain, it served under combat conditions, returning home in April 1991.
With the end of the Cold War, a major reorganization of the Air Force was soon underway which would bring about the most significant mission change in the history of the 121st. After 35 years of flying fighters it was to become an air refueling wing. In 1992, the A-7D's were flown to the “Boneyard” and the first KC-135R's were received. The 121st also assumed base support responsibilities. Even more changes were in store. In October, 1993, the 121st Air Refueling Wing was consolidated with the 160th Air Refueling Group which was deactivated in the process. With this consolidation, the 121st became a “Super Wing” by gaining the 145th Air Refueling Squadron with its aircraft, unique history and heritage.
The 145th Air Refueling Squadron traces its origin to the Air Transport Squadron, established at Akron-Canton Airport, Ohio in 1956. Its aero medical evacuation mission using C-46D's continued to 1958 when the aircraft was replaced by the C-J "Flying Boxcar." In 1961, the 145th was transferred to Clinton County AFB near Wilmington, Ohio. Its mission was changed to air refueling, the C-119s were replaced by KC-97F and G aircraft and the 160th Air Refueling Group was established as a headquarters and support organization. In 1964, the 160th participated in Operation “Ready Go”, the first all ANG non-stop deployment of ANG fighter aircraft to Europe. In 1965, the KC-97G's were upgraded to KC-97L's with addition of jet engine pods mounted to the outboard wings. 1967 saw the beginning of Operation Creek Party, a continuous rotational mission flying out of Rhein-Main AB, Germany. The success of this operation, which would continue until 1975, demonstrated the ability of the Air Guard to perform significant day-to-day missions without being mobilized. The 160th was one of the mission's “Charter” units and when its Creek Party participation ended it had safely flown 426 transatlantic crossings.
In 1971, Clinton County AFB closed and the 160th moved to Lockbourne AFB. In 1975, the 160th became the first Air Guard unit to convert to the KC-135A all jet tanker aircraft. It was the first ANG unit to perform the Strategic Air Command (SAC) Alert mission and pass a SAC Operational Readiness Inspection. It was soon participating in SAC overseas Tanker Task Forces and other priority missions throughout the world. In 1984, the KC-135A's were reengined and redesignated as KC-135E's. The turbofan engines provide a dramatic increase in performance, safety and reliability.
In August, 1990, the 160th was one of the first Air Guard units to deploy aircraft after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Aircraft and volunteer aircrews were heavily involved in “Air Bridge” refueling missions supporting deployment of combat forces to Southwest Asia. Aircraft, aircrews and support personnel next began rotational “DESERT SHIELD” deployments to a provisional Tanker Task Force at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The 160th was activated on Dec. 20 1990. Deployment began on Dec. 28 and the 160th became part of three Provisional Air Refueling Wings at Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Jeddah. Additional personnel augmented a regional support base at Moron AB, Spain while others deployed to CONUS bases to “backfill” for deployed active duty personnel. Combat flying missions for “DESERT STORM” commenced on Jan. 17, 1991. The 160th compiled a remarkable record of mission accomplishment during combat operations. When hostilities ended, the 160th returned home in March to a tremendous welcome by families and friends.
September 1991 brought the stand down of the SAC Alert mission which the 160th had maintained continuously for more than 25 years. 160th began conversion to KC-135R aircraft on Oct. 11. In June 1992, the Strategic Air Command was deactivated and the 160th became part of the new Air Mobility Command. In September 1993, the 160th was deactivated ending a proud 32-year history where the unit pioneered new missions and achieved an outstanding record of flying safety and other accomplishments. All unit members, aircraft, equipment and the 145th Air Refueling Squadron became part of the 121st Air Refueling Wing.
The mid-1990's brought increased wing participation in Air Mobility Command deployed operations worldwide. In 1994, the 121st began operations from Istres-LeTube AB in Southern France for Operation Deny Flight supporting NATO operations in the Balkans. This mission was reminiscent of the wing's missions in France 32 years earlier. Similar missions became regular events. Among the more significant were: Decisive Endeavor (Pisa Italy); Northern Watch (Incerlik AB, Turkey); and Southern Watch (Prince Sultan AB, Saudi Arabia). By 2000, the 121st was being integrated into the new Air Expeditionary Force deployment plans.
The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States brought the 121st into immediate action supporting the expanded air defense missions of Operation Noble Eagle. The 121st had the distinction of providing more air refueling support to this mission than any other Air Force unit. 121st aircraft and aircrews supported Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), and the 121st Civil Engineering Squadron was activated and deployed to Southwest Asia for priority base construction missions. Security Forces, Communications and other support personnel were individually activated for other worldwide missions. In 2003, an aviation element with aircraft, aircrew and maintenance were activated and deployed to the Persian Gulf for Operation Iraqi Freedom where they compiled an outstanding record while attached to the 384th Expeditionary Air Refueling Wing. The 121st continued to support high priority refueling missions worldwide and deploy personnel to augment wartime operations. These included a transportation element that served in Iraq under combat conditions in 2004 and 2005.
The 121st and its personnel have a proud history of outstanding accomplishments. The wing has received four Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards while winning honors in many Air Force, Major Command, international and state competitions such as Gunsmoke, Top Gun, Rodeo, and International Air Tattoo. It is considered one of the premier units in the Air National Guard and the Air Force with a reputation for operational excellence, pride, efficiency, innovation and community service. Its men and women are dedicated to continuing this record of outstanding service to the nation, state and community.
This history was compiled by Col. (Ret.) Joe Carr former 121st Logistics Group Commander. His sources include Ohio Air National Guard History, 1927 -1974, Ohio Air National Guard Sixty Year History; Annual History Reports of the 121st Tactical Fighter Wing, 121st Air Refueling Wing, and 160th Air Refueling Group; unit newsletters that include “Super Sluff,” “Tanker Topics” and “Wing Watch”; and by first-hand accounts from unit members.