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Davis Journal

Utah Air National Guard celebrates 75th anniversary

Dec 23, 2021 08:58AM ● By Tom Haraldsen

The KC-135R Stratotanker is the workhorse of the UNAG’s 151st Air Refueling Wing. Photo by Tom Haraldsen

You’ve probably heard or seen their aircraft when you’re near the Salt Lake City International Airport. Perhaps you’ve noticed the unusual shape of their planes, with that “tail” sticking out from behind. What you might not know is that their operation has been part of the Utah community for 75 years.

That’s the anniversary that was celebrated on Nov. 18 this year for the Utah Air National Guard. Its 151st Air Refueling Wing, like all Air National Guards in the country, supports U.S. military missions of defense for our nation, and many past and present members of the UANG live in Davis County.

Its home is the Roland R. Wright ANG base on the east side of the airport. Today, the UANG has nearly 1,500 trained men and women that serve both federal and state missions.

“The 151st ARW files the KC-135R Stratotanker in support of air refueling operations, aeromedical evacuations and cargo missions,” said Master Sgt. John Winn, who hosted media members for a demonstration flight. He said the 151st includes 17 squadrons and five group commanders who coordinate the efforts of the KC-135s, which were first assigned to Utah in 1978 as part of the Strategic Air Command. The UANG began as a fighter-bomber unit before switching to an air refueling mission. The type of aircraft flown by the wing has changed eight times since the wing’s inception.

Simply put, the KC-135 is like an airborne gas station for the U.S. military. That “tail” is called a “boom,” and it’s the unit that attaches to aircraft such as F-15s, F-35s, and B-1 bombers, among others. This refueling ability allows the fighter jets to extend their missions.

“The 151st ARW is the single largest component and provides personnel to fly, maintain and support a KC-135R unit,” Wynn said. “The unit flies training missions in the Western United States and frequently deploys to worldwide locations to support ongoing combat operations.”

Those operations often include national emergencies such as natural disasters or civil disturbances. Since the Korean Conflict in the early 1950s, members have served in the Vietnam War (where UANG crews flew 6,600 hours in support of American forces), as part of operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and in support of Operation Allied Force. The wing can provide an air hospital for critical care needs, weapons disposal, firefighting with aircraft and other large vehicles, and maintains a partnership for peace with Morocco. 

Domestically, members of the wing have responded to numerous local and national emergencies, including assisting evacuees in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Guardsmen serve in the community at events like Sub-for-Santa, blood drives, Adopt a School programs, highway cleanup, and at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. 

The base also houses support units such as Explosive Ordnance Disposal, the UTANG Fire Department, the 151st Emergency Management and the 151st Security Force Squadron.

“We have a very active state mission,” Wynn explained, “as we’ve been helping with all facets of the COVID pandemic response. We had personnel guarding the state capitol during the riots in May of last year, and helped with local response to windstorm damages. There are 443 full-time personnel on the base, with another 993 part-time reservists serving one weekend a month.”

Our media visit included a planned refueling flight over parts of Idaho and Oregon to meet up with aircraft from the 366th Fighter Wing out of Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. Filled with 70,000 pounds of fuel, our 98,000+ pound aircraft (its weight without the fuel or reporters and personnel) took off smoothly and headed to the northwest. But on this day, unfortunately, a mechanical issue with the boom prevented us from actually docking with any aircraft. Still, it was a memorable flight and a safe, smooth landing with a very heavy KC-135 back at the base.

“The Air National Guard provides almost half of the U.S. Air Force’s tactical aircraft support, combat communications functions, aero-medical evacuations and aerial refueling,” Wynn said. “In addition, the Air National Guard has total responsibility for air defense of the entire United States.”

Pretty impressive accomplishments and responsibilities for a neighbor you never knew you had.