The History of the 108th Air Refueling Wing

The air refueling portion of the 108th history, is relatively new, only dating back to October 19, 1991, when the unit was re-designated as the 108th Air Refueling Wing. However, its history as a Wing began in March 1950.

It also had hereditary ties to the 348th Fighter Group constituted during World War II. On September 24, 1942, the 108th Fighter Group was established. Nonetheless, the 108th is a living history, built on notable accomplishments to which new ones are constantly being added. An illustrative example is it's fighter-to-refueling mission change and aircraft conversion. Its transition, within one year from being a combat ready fighter unit to a combat ready air refueling unit is thought to be an Air Force record of sorts.

The State of New Jersey, not content with just having the 108th Fighter Group in its fold (established in May 1946), formally established the 108th Fighter Wing based at Newark Airport, NJ. It received Federal recognition on November 1, 1960. Historically, New Jersey had long been enamored with its fighter units and "Aces" 34, of the latter to date were New Jerseyans. Two of whom subsequently commanded the 108th Fighter Wing.

The 108th Fighter Wing was activated on March 1, 1951, for the Korean War and assigned to the Strategic Air Command. It was subsequently transferred to the Tactical Air Command and released from active duty on November 30, 1952. It was reactivated on October 1, 1961 for the Berlin Crisis and immediately transferred overseas. The 108th spearheaded OPERATION STAIR STEP, the largest trans-Atlantic deployment of jet fighters in history. It developed a simple but unique procedure to maximize "topping off" each jet fighter's- fuel tanks prior to the long, over-water flight to Europe. The technique was adopted by all units that followed. Its proudest Berlin Crisis achievement came shortly after it arrived at Chaumont Air Base, France. Of all the Guard and Reserve fighter units activated, the 108th was the first of only two units declared combat ready upon arrival by the U S Air Forces, Europe, inspectors. The wing was released from active duty on August 17, 1962.

In April 1964, when it traded its "Thunderstreak" for the F-105B "Thunderchief", the 108th was the first Air Guard unit to fly twice the speed of sound. In 1989, it was declared the best Air National Guard flying unit and awarded the coveted Spatz Trophy. It participated in numerous exercises and made six overseas deployments as a fighter unit, to France, Greece, Ecuador and three times to Norway.

The 108th received its first KC-135E Stratotanker on September 27, 1991. Yet, a scant 69 days later, on December 6, it flew its first refueling mission. Forty one days later, on January 16, 1992, it flew its first operational mission - a night, air refueling of an E-3B "Sentry" bound for the Persian Gulf. 1992 was a busy year for the 108th. They flew their first passenger airlift mission on February 27; its first overseas mission (Costa Rica) on March 13; its first European mission, Germany May 28, (South Korea) on July 20, and its first humanitarian mission on September 1, (three Stratotankers filled with critically needed supplies to "Hurricane Andrew" (Florida) victims).

Fierce unit spirit, dedication, and professional-pride paid off. Self-imposed training missions, actively seeking airlift and refueling missions made the 108th's first full year as an air refueling wing a busy one. As its self-confidence grew with its new mission and aircraft, so did that of its customers and higher headquarters.

The Wing was certified combat ready on December 3, 1992. The very next day it was tasked with two missions - its first operational deployment - nothing less than spearheading and establishing the U.S. - Somalia air bridge for OPERATION RESTORE HOPE. It not only deployed an air refueling detachment to Moron Air Base, Spain, but also airlifted active duty air crews to Cairo West Air Base, Egypt. In January 1993, while deployed at Moron AB, Spain, the Wing off loaded its one millionth pound of fuel.

On October 1, 1993, the 170th Air Refueling Group NJANG consolidated with the 108th Air Refueling Wing. The 170th Air Refueling Group, including the 150th Air Refueling Squadron was established at Newark Airport, NJ, on February 1, 1956 and transferred to McGuire AFB in July 1965. The 108th welcomed the 150th Air Refueling Squadron's 37 years experience in airlift and air refueling operations, and its 130,454 accident-free flying hours, recognized as the worlds safest flying record. During the Vietnam War, the 150th, then equipped with the C-121 "Constellation," flew many airlift missions from the U.S. to Southeast Asia. It was the first air refueling unit in the Nation to launch tankers to establish the now famous U.S. Saudi Arabia "Air Bridge" during OPERATION DESERT Shield-DESERT STORM. Literally hours after President Bush ordered U.S. forces to the Persian Gulf, the 150th aircrews were refueling fighters and cargo transports winging their way nonstop from the U.S. to the Persian Gulf. Shortly thereafter, and again, prior to certain units personnel being activated, the 150th deployed aircraft, aircrews, maintenance and support personnel to Saudi Arabia. It also provided urgently needed medical, security police and support personnel to U.S. air bases to assist active duty personnel and serve as "back-fill" for those already rushed to the combat theater.

In September 1994, for over 30 days, five aircraft and 300 members deployed to Pisa, Italy for DENY FLIGHT. The 108th replaced the 126 ARW of the Illinois Air Guard. Supported by 15 active duty Air Force personnel, the 108th ARW was the first Air Guard Unit to take full responsibility during that period.

May through August 1995, 13 members of the 108th and 170th Clinic deployed to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba for a humanitarian mission, Operation SEA SIGNAL.

Whether tasked with fighter, airlift or refueling missions, the Wing and its subordinate flying units, the 141st and 150th Air Refueling Squadrons, have established rich histories in their respective endeavors. A history in the making. 

The 141st Aerial Squadron
Dates back to 1917 and it's one of the oldest units in the Air Force established during World War I in Rockwell Field, CA, as the 141st Aero Provisional Squadron. It saw combat in France and was credited with two enemy "kills". Its first combat commander was Captain Hobey Baker, the world-renowned Princeton University athlete. Shortly after the war, Captain Hobey Baker died. In his honor, the Princeton Tiger was adopted and incorporated as the 141st's squadron insignia.