940 ARW History

The 940th Air Refueling Group in 1991

  • Published
  • By Dr. T. J. Linzy
  • 940th Air Refueling Wing

The 940th Air Refueling Group in 1991
This is the first in a planned series of annual historical reviews to document the history of the 940th Air Refueling Wing.
By Dr. T. J. Linzy, USAF historian

As the year of 1991 came to a close, the 940th Air Refueling Group (940 ARG) could have been excused for thinking that things might settle down. It had sent 187 volunteers and 6 aircraft to Desert Shield on 10 August 1990, just 8 days after Iraq had invaded Kuwait, and rotated crews through Saudi Arabia until 18 December 1990 as part of the largest tanker wing ever assembled, the 1709th Air Refueling Wing (Provisional). As part of the combined the 1709 ARW, 940 ARG contributed 865.1 hours flown in 157 sorties and 14,000 Man-days during Desert Storm. However, activities remained at pace in 1991, just in different directions. By December 1991, 940 ARW could look back with pride in all that had happened. 

In early 1991, Operation Desert Shield operations began transitioning to what would become Operation Desert Storm with the beginning of the air war on 17 January 1991. Critical supplies for the personnel and equipment needed for the air and coming ground war were still backlogged from the autumn of 1990. The U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) was struggling, so KC-10 aerial refueling aircraft began pulling double duty by refueling aircraft and then flying to another location to pick up supplies, then fly back to station and refuel and start the whole process over again. To help overcome USTRANSCOM's backlogs, the 940 ARG’s gaining command, the Strategic Air Command (SAC), offered its KC-135s to help with the airlift. USTRANSCOM said no, mainly due to the KC-135’s limited cargo capabilities and non-alignment with the Military Airlift Command’s (MAC) standard loads and palletization. Not taking no for a final answer, SAC decided to improve its own logistics by employing its own KC-135s as personnel and equipment carriers to their own KC-135 forward operating locations (FOLs). SAC called this initiative Operation Mighty Express. The name paid homage to the “Mighty Eighth” Air Force of WWII and Cold War fame. It used Air National Guard (ANG) and Air Force Reserve (USAFR) KC-135s to move military personnel and cargo from the Continental United States (CONUS) to Europe or to the Middle East. Headquarters SAC sought and gained the support the Eighth Air Force Logistics and Operations staffs to plan the most efficient routes and schedules.  

The Mighty Express began operations on 21 January 1991 and was supported by the Mather AFB, CA based 940 ARG.  Flying from Barksdale AFB, LA, the Mighty Express used Moron Air Base, Spain as the stopover between CONUS and the Persian Gulf.  Crews from the 314th Air Refueling Squadron (314 ARS) of 940 ARG and the 940th Combined Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (940 CAMS) deployed, initially to Barksdale AFB, LA in two groups on 17 and 21 January 1991. SAC had managed to improve its and USTRANSCOM’s position by using innovative thinking and supportive units to overcome the obstacles of supplying air, sea, and land forces in the U.S. Central Command’s (CENTCOM) area of responsibility (AOR). Over the next three months, Mighty Express crews delivered 700 passengers, 200 tons of cargo, and over 3,000 mission critical parts to the CENTCOM AOR to support the success of Operation Desert Storm. 940 ARG continued to support Mighty Express until April 1991 when it began redeploying back to Mather AFB, CA. 

314 ARS and 940 CAMS were not the only 940 ARG units to deploy in support of Operation Desert Storm. In late January 1991, the 940th Civil Engineer Squadron (940 CES) deployed personnel (from Mather AFB, CA) to Beale AFB, CA, Castle AFB, CA, and Ellsworth AFB, SD to backfill positions vacated by personnel that had been forward deployed to the CENTCOM AOR. The 940th Medical Clinic also deployed 36 medics to Travis AFB, CA and March AFB, CA in February 1991 for backfill duties. Finally, the 940th Security Polices Forces (940 SPF) were sent to Saudi Arabia in February 1991. They would serve in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt before fully returning in August 1991, as some of the last USAF Reserves to return. Going back to 10 August 1990 when they deployed six aircraft and 187 personnel a mere 8 days after Iraq had invaded Kuwait, 940 ARG had served the nation in a variety of roles that proved the Total Force concept.
After the quick conclusion to Desert Storm in early March 1991, 940 ARG was notified in April 1991 that it would be moving from its home of many years, Mather AFB, CA, to its former home of McClellan AFB, CA. The future move took up much of the rest of the year, but other operations were not off the table. In June and July of 1991, 940 ARG became the first USAF Reserve unit to certify a NATO weapons system for aerial refueling. Operating out of RAF Alconbury and RAF Cottesmore, 940 ARW certified the United Kingdom’s F-3 Tornado for KC-135 aerial refueling. 
Col Donald E. Schell, 940 ARG Commander, was selected as a 10the Air Force (10 AF) representative to the U.S. Air Force Reserve (AFRES) Commander’s conference for the Desert Shield / Desert Storm (DS/DS) “Hot Wash” in September 1991. The Hot Wash was designed to capture the lessons learned during extensive deployments of AFRES personnel and units to support DS/DS. Many high level issues were identified across AFRES under major headings such as volunteerism versus call-ups, mobilization / deployment, employment on station, re-deployment, and demobilization.  940 ARG contributed specifically to the tanker task forces assembled for DS/DS and Mighty Express with specific concerns on planning, intelligence, cargo infrastructure, and joint / allied interoperability.  While many of the recommendations made were taken up and implemented, others were not and they would have major cosequences for AFRES units in the coming decades. Col Schell argued that AFRES units should not be broken up and sent piecemeal on deployments, but should retain their cohesion. Interestingly, AFRES and the USAF in general took the opposite approach for much of the next thirty years.
Throughout all of the activity in 1990-1991, 940 ARG remained on nuclear alert to refuel SAC B-52 bombers on the west coast of CONUS in the event of a nuclear strike by the USSR. The nuclear alert status began at SAC bases in 1955. 940 ARG had been on alert status since 1977. They participated in one-third of the nuclear triad of bomber carried nuclear weapons, nuclear submarine sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the ending of the Cold War and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact in Europe. The USSR was in turmoil and seemed to be a ghost of it previous military power. The USSR had supplied much of Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi arsenal that had been so thoroughly dismantled by the U.S. led Operation Desert Storm coalition. Many viewed the USSR as a declining, but still dangerous nuclear power. The fine line to walk was to give the USSR visible evidence that the USA would not take advantage of their weakness, but was still able to deter a rogue element of the USSR military from using nuclear weapons. President George H.W. Bush was criticized in some quarters for taking the USSR’s weakness as evidence of complete disintegration. However, he declared a nuclear alert stand down on 28 September 1991 anyway to help prove the USA’s intent to de-intensify nuclear tensions with volatile forces in the fading USSR. 940 ARG had spent 14 years on continuous SAC alert duty from their home base at Mather AFB, CA. The final 940 ARG crews taxied KC-135 tail numbers 0053 & 1511 to the 940 ARG ramp and stopped their alert duty on 28 September 1991. The USSR collapsed and ceased to exist on 31 December 1991. 

As the Cold War faded into history, new USAF weapons systems continued to become operational, including stealth aircraft that had been developed at bases near 940 ARG’s area of home operations. 940 ARG capitalized on this proximity by becoming the first Reserve and/or Guard unit to aerially refuel a B-2 “stealth’ bomber on 4 December 1991. In 1991, the B-2 Spirit was a new multi-role bomber capable of delivering conventional and nuclear weapons. On short notice due to an active duty KC-135 cancellation, a 940 ARW crew flushed their normal JP-4 fuel load and refueled with the JP-8 fuel that the B-2 needed. From 4-6 December 1991, 940 ARG flew with a B-2 from Edwards AFB., CA. Senior Airman Tom Killian of 940 ARG became the first AFRES or National Guardsman to refuel the B-2. Col Donald Schell was quoted as saying, “The B-2 is one of the most sensitive issues on the Air Force agenda, and support for it is very tenuous. If the bomber had been unable to fly those sorties for lack of a tanker, it might have thrown its test program off schedule. [The Air Force] doesn’t want to jeopardize that program.” 
940 ARG also continued to support other units by escorting two AFRES F-16s from Luke AFB, AZ to Hickam AFB, HI in early December 1991. The AFRES crews went to participate in the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s attack on Pearl Harbor that marked the U.S.A.’s entry into World War II. 940 ARG not only escorted the two F-16s, but transported eighteen operations and maintenance personnel from Luke AFB and set up a KC-135 static display to participate in the commemoration.

Throughout 1991, 940 ARG units performed incredibly well. This unit performance was punctuated by individual efforts above and beyond the call. Among all of those who performed without specific recognition, two 940 ARG personnel were recognized for great individual contributions in 1991. MSgt Larry D. Amante, NCOIC of the 940th Security Police Squadron (SPS) Operations was selected as Outstanding Security Police NCO of 1991 in the 10th Air Force. It was MSgt Amante’s fourth win of the award. SSgt Amadeo A. Flores, NCOIC of 940 SPS Training, was named Outstanding Security Police Airman of 1991 in the 10th Air Force. 

Finally, in keeping with 940 ARG’s strong ties to its Sacramento base, the unit provided bikes for underprivileged children in Sacramento County for Christmas 1991. Driven by the 940th HQ Squadron’s First Sergeant SMSgt Louise Lewandowski, TSgt Luis Torres, and historian MSgt Debbie Keim, three bikes were bought, assembled, and delivered in time for the Families First organization to deliver them to families for Christmas. 

Whether deploying worldwide on short notice, training at home base for its alert mission, or supporting its local community, 940 ARG showed its true colors in 1991, a year to be remembered.