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History of the 168th Wing

The 168th Wing exemplifies the spirit of Total Force teamwork.  Nowhere is daily cooperation between the active and reserve components more evident than in the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), Alaska, and the 168 ARW.  The 168 ARW transfers more fuel than any other Air National Guard (ANG) tanker wing, because nearly all receivers are active duty aircraft, many of which are on operational missions.  The 168 ARW is the only Arctic region refueling unit for all of PACAF, and maintains a substantial number of personnel on active duty and civilian technician status in order to meet its daily operational requirements.  The 168 ARW completed its R-model conversion in 1995, and in 2000 they completed a major flight deck upgrade called "Pacer CRAG" - with the CRAG standing for Compass, Radar, and GPS (Guidance Positioning System). 

The mission of the 168 ARW is to train and equip KC-135R combat crews to provide air refueling in support of PACAF Operations Plans (OPLANS) and worldwide refueling taskings.  Our peacetime mission provides air refueling training and exercise support for all 11th Air Force AWACS and fighter aircraft, as well as alert tankers and crews to support Alaska NORAD Region (ANR) plans and Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed refueling requirements.  In 2000, we became mobility-tasked, which has been a true opportunity for growth and learning.  Besides our federally directed missions, as a unit of the Alaska National Guard, the 168 ARW is an asset of the Governor of Alaska and as such, the Governor can direct the unit to respond to emergencies declared or missions required within the State. 

The 168 ARW was activated on October 23, 1990 as the 168th Air Refueling Group.  This Group grew out of the 168th Air Refueling Squadron (AFRES), which traces its lineage to the 437th Bombardment Squadron, originally activated at Barksdale Field, Louisiana, in June of 1942.  Its aircraft were the Martin B-26 "Marauder" and in November 1944 they received the North American B-25 "Mitchell". The 437th served with distinction in both the European and Pacific theaters of World War Two, earning the French Croix de Guerre (with palm) for action over Italy and France during April-June 1944, two Presidential Unit Citations for operations over Rome and Florence in 1944, and nine combat streamers for campaigns in which it flew. In January of 1945 the 437th was transferred to Okinawa for participation in the Ryukyus Islands Campaign and the Air Offensive in Japan, the closing chapters of WWII.  In May of 1946 the 437th was redesignated as the 168th Bombardment Squadron (Light) and allocated to the Illinois Air National Guard. It flew the B-26 Douglas "Invader" and was stationed at Chicago's Orchard Place Airport, now O'Hare International Airport. The unit was called to active duty for service in France from 1951-53. In 1954 it was redesignated the 168th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, and flew the famous North American F-51 "Mustang". In 1955 it received the F-84F "Thunderstreak" jet, becoming the 168th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron. In 1957 it flew the F-86L "Sabre-jet". In May of 1958, the 168th's aircraft and personnel were assigned to other units, but the 168th's unit designation remained on the state's rolls -- a "technical deactivation". Almost thirty years later, the unit was reactivated as the 168th Air Refueling Squadron and assigned to the Alaska Air National Guard. 

From a modest beginning in 1986, the unit has blossomed into Wing status and all the accouterments of a full Air Refueling Wing.  The 168 ARW has command and control over thirteen subordinate assigned units whose missions include all aircraft maintenance for the PACAF-gained tankers, providing financial, transportation, contracting, and base supply resources, communications, data processing and visual information functions, organizational security, and disaster preparedness and air base operability.  They also contain all personnel activities such as training, equal employment opportunity and recruiting, and limited diagnostic and therapeutic service in general medicine, flight medicine, bioenvironmental, environmental, and dental services.  

Subordinate assigned units include four groups, the 168th Operations Group (OG), the 168th Maintenance Group (MXG), the 168th Mission Support Group (MSG), and the 168th Medical Group (MDG).  The 168 OG includes the 168th Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) and the 168th Operations Support Flight (OSF), the 168 MXG includes the 168th Maintenance Squadron (MXS), the 168th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS), and the 168th Maintenance Operations Flight (MOF).  Finally, the 168 MSG includes the 168th Security Forces Squadron (SFS), the 168th Logistics Readiness Squadron (LRS), the 168th Mission Support Flight (MSF), and the 168th Communications Flight (CF). 

Because of Alaska's strategic location with regard to national defense, the mission and importance of the 168 ARW and the Alaska Air National Guard should continue to increase in the coming years.  The 168 ARW has a remarkably broad range of responsibilities that it fulfills in an exemplary manner, providing an outstanding example for all other Air National Guard units.  With a proven capacity to perform, we are ready to face the challenges of the future and are confident of our ability to accomplish any assigned mission. 

In January 1994, January 1996, and January 2004, the 168 ARW received the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award. 

In April 1996 and again in 1997, the 168 ARW won one of the five annual Distinguished Flying Unit Plaques sponsored by the National Guard Association of the Untied States. 

Also in 1997, they earned the Curtis N. "Rusty" Metcalf Trophy, for the tactical/strategic airlift or air refueling flying unit demonstrating the highest standards of mission accomplishment over a sustained period each year. 

The 168th Air Refueling Wing is the embodiment of teamwork in the new, streamlined American military. 


The upper right of the shield consists of a compass rose against a yellow background. The compass rose signifies the global nature of the Wing mission and is set at a 30 degree angle to the east representing the magnetic variation of Alaska where the Group was first formed. The yellow background represents the midnight sun at our latitude and the day aspect of the air refueling mission. The lower left of the shield depicts a red lightning bolt running from cloud to cloud against a blue background. The red lightning bolt signifies the projection of military power, the clouds are the medium in which we perform our mission, and the blue background the Arctic night and the night aspect of our mission. The red lightning bolt is also a prominent feature of the squadron patch from which the 168th Air Refueling Group/Wing evolved. Between the yellow and blue fields is a bar of ultramarine blue containing eight yellow stars. The ultramarine blue is Air Force blue representing our role in the Total Force; it is also the background color of the Alaska flag. The eight yellow stars are the stars of the big dipper also found on the Alaska flag.   


The unit insignia of the 168th Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) has a long history. The original insignia of the 168th Bombardment Squadron (Bomb Sq), and later the 168th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron (FIS), depicted a skunk wearing a red baseball cap and red and white apron. The skunk stood on a cloud and served a bomb on a tray. Old-timers at O'Hare, the stomping ground of the 168 FIS, believe the skunk to be a Disney character, probably "Flower" from the film Bambi. Whatever his origin, the skunk became known as "Sweet Willie" in honor of the first Air Guard Commander, Lieutenant Colonel William Chum. In fact, the 168 FIS kept a live skunk as a mascot. According to Air Force Historian Mrs. Endicott, the 437th Bomb Squadron, predecessor to the 168th Bomb Squadron, registered no official insignia. The skunk has its roots in Chicago, where it was originated, and represents "defiance". The skunk's baseball cap is a replica of those worn by the aircrew of the squadron. When the 168 ARS inherited the honors and insignia of its past illustrious units, the insignia was changed slightly to correspond with the new mission of the unit, namely refueling instead of bombardment. Instead of the skunk serving a bomb, the skunk now holds a fuel nozzle, representing the mission of aerial refueling. However, the proud traditions of the 437th Bombardment Squadron, the 168th Bombardment Squadron, the 168th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, and the 168th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron go on unchanged.