ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE — The last Air Force C-5 Galaxy stationed at Altus Air Force Base left in 2007 and with it the 56th Airlift Squadron was deactivated, as it has done several times before.
With the opening of the KC-46 Pegasus refueling aircraft school house, August 30, the 56th Air Refueling Squadron will reactivate and once again be in the skies over Altus, ready to start a new chapter in its rich heritage.
The squadron was born in Kentucky in 1942, with the C-47 in World War II. Its primary mission was to transport troops and supplies in the Pacific theater. Until it was deactivated in 1946, the squadron spent the rest of the war island hopping with the 58th Troop Carrier Squadron, now the 58th Airlift Squadron.
After the war, the squadron was reactivated and moved around the country several different times and incorporated many different aircraft. The C-46 flew in Korea, the C-82 in South Carolina and, while in Pennsylvania, aircrews were trained to operate the C-124, to name a few. The longest run the squadron had was with the C-5 in Altus from 1969-2007. Altus AFB C-5s participated in Operations Desert Shield and Storm, Operation Provide Comfort and many other operational and humanitarian missions including being one of the first aircraft to provide food and relief to the victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
Because of its strong history, the squadron beat out many other squadrons for reactivation.
“The Air Force wants to keep the heritage alive in the squadrons,” said Rich Guinan, 97th Air Mobility Wing historian. “So during the process of choosing the squadron, we look at a score sheet. If it’s for a fighter wing the sheet tells us how many aces the squadron had, how many planes it shot down, and so on and they have those rankings for each type of wing.”
“When we looked at the 56th, we found it scored much better than the others,” said Guinan. “It’s hard to pinpoint a single instance or mission that defined the 56th, but it did so much over the years. The C-5 alone went places and did things that people didn’t think possible. So, it really scored well.”
When the squadron reactivates, it will help keep the accomplishments of previous roles alive, an important aspect of recirculating squadrons into active roles.
“From accomplishments of the personnel assigned to the unit since WWII, to pioneering the mission of the nation’s largest transport aircraft supporting humanitarian and operational missions around the globe, the 56th as a whole, has accomplished so much,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Daniel Ruttenber, 56th ARS commander. “It is important to remember we wouldn’t be free if it wasn’t for their sacrifices, just like those who follow us will be free because of ours.”
Remembering the past is important, but what the future holds will be just as integral.
“We follow in the footsteps of the former 56th Airlift Squadron — a stalwart group of men and women characterized innovation and bravery,” said Ruttenber. “The 56th ARS will continue this tradition of excellence as the Air Force’s sole KC-46 formal training unit, redefining the next generation.”
Whether it is remembering the accomplishments of those that served over the last 74 years or preparing for the future and training tomorrow’s air refuelers, the 56th ARS is prepared to step up to the plate and carry on a tradition of success.
Reach Senior Airman Nathan Clark at 580-481-7700.