Heritage and Legacy: A Brief History of the 22nd Air Refueling Wing and McConnell Air Force Base

Cougar Paw
Figure 1. The original "Cougar Paw" emblem design established in 1941.

22d Bombardment/Operations Group

The history of the 22d pre-dates America’s entry into World War II. The group was constituted as the 22d Bombardment Group (Medium) on 22 December 1939 and activated on 1 February 1940, at Mitchel Field, New York. The 22 BG was originally assigned under the 2d Bombardment Wing. Comprised of the 2d, 19th, 33d and later, the 408th Bombardment Squadrons, the group trained with the B-18 aircraft. In November 1940, the group moved to Langley Field, Virginia. While at Langley, the group began receiving the first 55 B-26 aircraft to enter Army Air Force (AAF) inventory in February 1941. The 22d trained in bombardment and sea surveillance as the Marauder aircraft continued to arrive.2

The group struggled with what was for the period, a tricky, high performance aircraft that many of the relatively inexperienced pilots found difficult to handle. The AAF had, in fact, grounded the B-26 in April due to accidents. The problem was compounded by rapid production turn-outs resulting in incomplete aircraft coming off the line. According to 22d veteran Walter Gaylor, 16 of 19 aircraft received at Langley by the end of May arrived without propellers. Once the unit completed training and qualification, the 22d’s primary mission on the east coast was anti-submarine surveillance. A strong concern existed at the time that large numbers of U-boats patrolled with relative impunity off the America’s Atlantic coastline. Most reported accounts of German submarine sightings were erroneous. Not only was the United States a “neutral” country but Nazi Germany dedicated the vast majority of the U-boat fleet to prey on shipping in the convoy sea lanes. By the time the United States formally entered the war, only six German U-boats were equipped and ready to patrol American coastal waters.3

Figure 2. Map of the South Pacific and Australia ca. 1943. The 22d flew out of Darwin and Townsville, Australia and staged raids from Port Moresby. The Japanese controlled Lae, a frequent 5 AF target. Moresby and Lae were separated by only 400 miles (Marauder Photo Archive)..

On 7 December 1941, a Japanese carrier task force attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. This abruptly ended the 22d’s participation in Atlantic coast operations. Thirty minutes after the attack, members of the 22d were ordered to report. Two and one half hours later, B-26s started to fly west and ground troops boarded trains heading the same direction for California and Muroc Dry Lake, a bombing range. In February 1942, the group crated and shipped their B-26s to Hickam Field, Hawaii. Once there, technicians reassembled and tested the aircraft. In late March, the 22d followed its planes on the 3,480 mile journey to Australia, making it the largest mass deployment in Army Air Force history.4

On 5 April 1942, the group launched its first combat mission from bases in Australia. With this action, the 22d became the first B-26 bomb unit to participate in combat. The group used its B-26 bombers to attack enemy shipping, installations and airfields on New Guinea and New Britain. Also on the bombing target list were troop concentrations and enemy merchant marine shipping in New Guinea, particularly at Lae and Salamaua. Through most of 1942, the 22d flew with little or no fighter cover. Predictably, few flyable B-26s remained by year’s end. Starting in early 1943, the 22 BG received B-25 and B-24 bombers. The remaining Marauder aircraft were all transferred to the 19 BS with the other three squadrons flying the new planes.5

Perhaps the most famous mission in the history of the 22d occurred on 9 June 1942. Elements of the group received a tasking to strike the Japanese at Lae, New Guinea. A Navy observer flew aboard a 22 BG Bomber called the Heckling Hare. This observer also happened to be a Congressman. His name was Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Democrat from Texas. The B-26 carrying Johnson broke off short of the bombing run though due to generator problems. It landed back in Australia at roughly the time the other Marauders of the 22 BG were making their bombing runs on Lae. General Douglas McArthur awarded Johnson the Silver Star for valor. It remains hotly debated today as to what exactly took place. Group commander Lt Col Dwight Divine II had an especially dangerous landing on returning. His B-26, nicknamed Rum Runner was heavily battle damaged and he safely landed the plane “gear up.” His near flawless execution of what was, in reality, a controlled crash, earned Divine the Distinguished Flying Cross for his performance. Eleven bombers took part in the mission.6

Figure 3. Lt Cmdr Lyndon Johnson shakes hands with Brig Gen Martin Scanlon before his flight with the 22d Bomb Group, 9 June 1942.

On 5 November 1943, the 22 BG aided Australian ground forces by bombing enemy entrenchments near Dumpu and Wewak northwest of Lae. This operation earned the 22d its second Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC) that stated in part,

…the 22d Bombardment Group (H), then consisting of one squadron of B-24s and three squadrons of B-25s based at Dobodura, New Guinea, to wipe out the Japanese positions. As the 32 medium bombers neared the target, cloud cover forced them down to a dangerously low altitude. Although they could honorably have turned back, they continued their descent, braved the concentrated antiaircraft fire, and accurately pinpointed over 23 tons of bombs on extremely small targets, difficult to locate because of the terrain and situated only a few hundred feet in front of the Australian forces. Every known enemy-occupied position in the area was destroyed…7

In February 1944, the group began replacing its B-25s and B-26s with more B-24s, changing the group’s designation to the 22d Bombardment Group (Heavy). The group also gained the nickname “Red Raiders” after redheaded group commander, Col Richard W. Robinson and the name of his, first B-24. The Red Viking logo, while used by the 22d and executed in patch form, was never entered into the squadron’s heraldry. The “cougar paw” in use today, has remained the 22d’s emblem since activation in 1941. Equipped with the new planes and operating from new bases in New Guinea, the 22d attacked Japanese airfields, shipping and oil fields and installations in Borneo, Ceram and Halmahera. American and allied forces continued to press the fight and in September 1944, the group attacked the Japanese bases in the southern Philippines for the invasion of the island of Leyte.8

Figure 4. Col Richard W. Robinson, 22 BG Commander and Red Cross worker Mary Corken relaxing. (David Ghen Collection, 22d Bomb Group Association).
Figure 4. Col Richard W. Robinson, 22 BG Commander and Red Cross worker Mary Corken relaxing. (David Ghen Collection, 22d Bomb Group Association).

From December 1944 to August 1945, the 22d attacked airfields and bases on the island of Luzon, the largest of the Philippine islands, in support of allied forces’ efforts to liberate the country. It was during this time that the group lost its commander, Col Robinson. He perished in January 1945 when his plane crashed on takeoff. While the 22d conducted operations in the Philippines, the group also supported Australian ground forces on Borneo and bombed railways and industrial targets on Formosa (present-day Taiwan) and China. After the battle of Okinawa, the unit moved to that island’s Motobu Peninsula and initiated reconnaissance missions over southern Japan.9

Looking strictly at the chronology of the 22d, one develops the impression the group constantly moved throughout World War II. This is true to an extent, but in actuality, the 22d used a number of bases simultaneously. For instance, in 1942 the 2d and 19th Bombardment Squadrons based from both Ipswich and Townsville, Australia, while the 33d flew primarily from Woodstock and the 408th from Reid River. The group’s staff spent most of 1942 between Townsville, Woodstock and Iron Range. Additionally, these locations acted as basing assignments only. The 22d staged most of the actual bombing runs from Port Moresby in New Guinea. As with any military unit in the South Pacific, frequent moves did become the rule once Douglas MacArthur’s “Island Hopping” campaign commenced in full gear. With the end of the war, the 22d remained in theater under Far East Air Forces, Pacific Air Forces’ predecessor. The group relocated to the Clark Field in the Philippines toward the end of 1945, doing so without personnel or equipment. In April 1946, the AAF re-designated the 22d as a “Very Heavy” bomb group in anticipation of a change in aircraft, which came in June when the unit switched to the B-29 Superfortress. The group remained in the Pacific until it moved to Smoky Hill AFB, near Salina, Kansas, in May 1948.10

Like other combat groups during the now independent Air Force’s first reorganization, the 22d Bomb Group became subordinate to a newly created wing with the same numeric designation. On 1 August 1948, the unit became the 22d Operations Group and with the newly created 22d Maintenance, Supply and Air Base Groups constituted the newly established 22d Bombardment Wing. In 1952, the Air Force reorganized again and inactivated groups. Their functions were replaced by directorships directly under wing organizations. This directorate structure continued until 1991, when the Air Force, under the direction of Chief of Staff General Merrill A. McPeak, reverted to the objective wing.11

Figure 5. Crew and maintainers of the 22 BG's B-29 "Mule Train" at Kadena Air Base, Japan
Figure 5. Crew and maintainers of the 22 BG’s B-29 "Mule Train" at Kadena Air Base, Japan

22d Bombardment/Air Refueling Wing

Following the 1948 reorganization, the new wing shared its commander with the 301st Bombardment Wing until the 22d moved to March AFB, California, in 1949. There, the 22d had a commander in common with the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) until that unit moved to George AFB, California, the following year.

With the onset of hostilities in Korea, the wing deployed ten B-29s to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, in July 1950 to participate in the Korean Conflict in support of combat operations of the Far East Air Force (FEAF). The FEAF quickly utilized the 22d’s Superfortresses and bombed North Korean marshalling yards, airfields and industries. The unit also provided air support to United Nations ground forces that defended South Korea from Communist North Korea’s forces. The group wasted no time and launched their very first combat sortie against marshalling yards and an oil refinery near Wonsan, Korea, just eight days after the first plane departed March AFB for Japan. The group clearly demonstrated the utility of rapid response mobility.12

Figure 6. Remains of North Korea’s largest ore smelting facility in Chinnampo, North Korea following a visit by the 22d’s B-29s in 1950.
Figure 6. Remains of North Korea’s largest ore smelting facility in Chinnampo, North Korea following a visit by the 22d’s B-29s in 1950.

The involvement of Strategic Air Command (SAC) assets in the Korean Conflict, to include the 22d, was a short-lived affair. SAC bombers eliminated all of their assigned targets and the 22d returned to March AFB in October 1950. In June 1952, the wing branched into air refueling with the addition of Boeing’s KC-97 “Stratofreighter” tankers and stood up the 22d Air Refueling Squadron in June of that year. By November the B-29 fleet was retired and replaced by jet-powered, B-47 “Stratojets," a Boeing Wichita product.13

With this 600 mile–per-hour plane, wing aircrews flew the longest non-stop mass flight in Air Force history. The operation took place in 1954 when the 22d’s crews flew 5,840 miles from the United Kingdom to California. The wing converted its bomber fleet to B-52s by late 1963. During that time frame, the organization’s tanker component completed the move into the jet age when the 22d Air Refueling Squadron replaced their propeller-driven KC-97s with the KC-135 Stratotanker, an air refueling platform based on the Boeing 707 airframe.14

The Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964 brought the 22d into its third major conflict in as many decades as the United States entered into full involvement in the Vietnam conflict. The wing’s KC-135s refueled Tactical Air Command (TAC) aircraft deploying to Southeast Asia, and supported Strategic Air Command bombers on rotation to Guam. The 22d Bombardment Wing realized heavy involvement in a number of operations during the war in Vietnam. In fact, the 22d accounted for 50 percent of all 15th Air Force support overseas at the time of the ARC LIGHT operation. Such concentrated action was not limited merely to ARC LIGHT. LINEBACKER II realized equally heavy participation on the part of the wing’s jets and aircrews. In March 1973, the wing received an Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for its exemplary performance in Southeast Asia–the fourth in the unit’s history. The 22d returned fully to the nuclear deterrence mission with the withdrawal of U. S. forces from Vietnam.15

Figure 7. B-52 alert aircrewmembers respond to their jet. (U. S. Air Force)
Figure 7. B-52 alert aircrewmembers respond to their jet. (U. S. Air Force)

Cold War alert status and nuclear dissuasion remained the constant through the remainder of the 1970s. Since the creation of President Eisenhower’s “Single Integrated Operational Plan,” SAC’s posture for the Cold War was one of ballistic missiles, B-52 bombers and KC-series air refueling tankers standing alert. As historian Richard K. Smith has noted, SAC’s basic philosophy was, “not to prepare for war, but to go to war.”16 In August 1982, the wing received the first three of its KC-10A Extenders and assigned them to the 9th Air Refueling Squadron, making them the second Air Force unit to use the new refuelers. This action preceded the re-designation of the 22d to an air refueling wing in October of the same year. The 22d used the KC-10A’s cargo, passenger and fuel load capacity to provide comprehensive airlift and air refueling support during the evacuation of American citizens from Grenada the following year.

In December 1989, the wing’s 22d Air Refueling Squadron inactivated and its KC-135A Stratotankers retired or transferred to other SAC bases. This left the 6th and 9th Air Refueling Squadrons as the wing’s only flying squadrons. The roughly twenty year expansion of tanker capabilities represented by development of the KC-135 and KC-10 aircraft during the Cold War years led one historian to describe the air refueling component as, “practically an air force unto itself…”17

Figure 8. A KC-10 Extender conducts refueling operations for an F-15 Eagle(U.S.AirForce)
Figure 8. A KC-10 Extender conducts refueling operations for an F-15 Eagle(U.S. AirForce)

Air Force combat operations drew down to occasionally small interdictions such as Grenada and Panama following the Vietnam era. These were all relatively small scale contingencies of limited time. The 22 ARW found itself engaged in most of these, providing air refueling and airlift via their Extender aircraft. This changed with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Strategic Air Command proved reluctant in utilizing the cargo capability of the aircraft during the initial Operation DESERT SHIELD build up and most 22 ARW Extenders were used strictly in refueling efforts during the beginning stages of force deployment. As a whole, no more than 20 KC-10s were utilized for cargo and troop transport during the Persian Gulf War, with most of those committed at the outbreak of hostilities. For the most part, the critical function provided by KC-10 aircraft remained strictly in the air refueling arena. In total, SAC’s KC-10s lifted 1,111 troops and 19,905 tons of cargo into Southwest Asia between August 1990 and January 1991.18

Incidents such as the SAC reticence to support pure mobility missions as just described provided Air Force leadership prime examples of the changing nature in the employment of airpower. Varying weapon systems would no longer be rigidly viewed from “tactical,” “strategic” or “mobility” standpoints. Interchanging capability based on mission requirements was a more desirable end state. Combined with the breakup of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, it became apparent that contingency-based force structures were needed. Air Force leaders elected to consolidate the major commands from 13 to 10. This provided obvious cost savings and eliminated levels of bureaucracy that often hampered operations during the Persian Gulf buildup. On 1 June 1992, Strategic Air Command, Military Airlift Command (MAC) and Tactical Air Command (TAC) inactivated. Air Force Space Command gained SAC’s intercontinental ballistic missile forces. The new Air Combat Command (formerly TAC) gained SAC’s bomber fleet. The 22 ARW and other tanker units joined the airlift fleet and formed the new Air Mobility Command (formerly MAC) and united all aspects of the transportation mission under a single major command. This latter move in particular was a necessity in a military environment that grew increasingly more mobile and global in nature.19

Figure 8. A KC-10 Extender conducts refueling operations for an F-15 Figure 9. Brig Gen Charles Coolidge accepts command of the 22d Air Refueling Wing from Lt Gen Walter Cross, 15th Air Force Commander, 3 January 1994. To the right stands the outgoing 22 ARW Commander Col (later Brig. Gen.) Stephen Lorenz. Coolidge would “win and pin” a second star while commanding the 22d.
Figure 9. Brig Gen Charles Coolidge accepts command of the 22d Air Refueling Wing from Lt Gen Walter Cross, 15th Air Force Commander, 3 January 1994. To the right stands the outgoing 22 ARW Commander Col (later Brig. Gen.) Stephen Lorenz. Coolidge would “win and pin” a second star while commanding the 22d.

The new commands quickly found themselves tested with a new operation on the African continent, supplying humanitarian assistance in Operation RESTORE HOPE. The 22 ARW used the Extenders and deployed 12,000 Marines into the theater. They also provided air refueling to allied aircraft that supported this operation. That same year, the Congressional Base Realignment and Closure Commission and Department of Defense (DoD) announced their recommendations for further base realignment and force restructuring. The plans called for the relocation of the 6th and 9th Air Refueling Squadrons to Travis AFB, California. At the same time, USAF ordered the 22 ARW to replace the 384th Bomb Wing at McConnell AFB, Kansas.20

At a 3 January 1994 ceremony conducted by General Walter Kross, 15th Air Force Commander, the 22d succeeded the 384th Bomb Wing as McConnell’s host unit under the command of Brigadier General Charles Coolidge. Brigadier General Ron Henderson’s bomber unit converted to a bomb group and remained at McConnell as an associate until it deactivated and transferred its fleet of ten B-1B Lancers to the 184th Bomb Group, Kansas Air National Guard (BG, KANG) in September 1994. This represented a monumental shift for the 184th. Since the unit’s inception as the 127th Observation Squadron in 1941, they flew fighter aircraft almost exclusively as the primary plane of assignment. A quick glance at Appendix 7 illustrates this fact. The 384th Air Refueling Squadron, an associate unit under the 19th Air Refueling Wing at Robins AFB, Georgia joined the 22 ARW as the first of four KC-135 squadrons to comprise the wing’s new tanker force. The 344th, 349th and the 350th joined the 384th over the next eight months to fly the wing’s 48 KC-135s and support AMC’s “Global Reach” component. Under Coolidge’s leadership and that of his successors, the 22d supported several worldwide contingencies. The wing participated in Operations DENY FLIGHT, SUPPORT HOPE and UPHOLD DEMOCRACY. The 22 ARW continued to lead by continuing to support ongoing contingencies such as NORTHERN WATCH and SOUTHERN WATCH. The 22 ARW led the Air Force in refueling interchangeability with the Multi-Point Refueling System (MPRS). This allowed the wing to provide refueling services to US Navy and allied aircraft. The PACER CRAG program consisted of modernized KC-135 avionics with technology that allowed for routine air refueling missions to proceed sans navigator.21

Most recently, the wing provided air refueling to fighter planes patrolling American air space during Operation NOBLE EAGLE, and deployed in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. With the kickoff of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, the wing deployed forces in support of the regime change in Baghdad. The wing’s efforts in these most recent operations garnered successive Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards, the thirteenth and fourteenth such awards in the wing’s history. Post 9/11 operations and missions were joint efforts conducted with the 931st Air Refueling Group and the 184th Air Refueling Wing, both stationed at McConnell Air Force Base. The present operational environment of the wing is from a decidedly joint approach with the focus clearly on “Team McConnell,” more so than each unit individually. The Air Force doctrinal approach of “Mirror Force” remained evident in all of the wing’s operations.22

Article Courtesy of McConnell Air Force Base.


3 Ibid, 29. See also, Craven W. F. and Cate J. L., The Army Air Forces in World War II: Plans & Early Operations, Vol I January 1939-August 1942, (Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History, 1983), 514-515. One should not take the text’s statement as an implication of Nazi Germany possessing little or no interest in American waters. Craven and Cate note that a great deal of political expediency also served as primary motivation to avoid American waters prior to America’s entry in the war. Until the United States formally engaged in World War II, in December 1941, Germany demonstrated far greater interest in more practical strikes on trans-Atlantic shipping of both the British and neutral countries. Craven and Cate pointedly note that only six subs were equipped for patrolling American waters once the German government removed its self-imposed constraints. Warren A. Trest also addressed the anti-submarine effort
in a very clear manner. See, Trest, Warren A., Air Force Roles and Missions: A History, (Washington, D. C.: Air Force History and Museums Program, 1998), 78-84.

4 Sgt Carson, William R., A Brief History of the 22nd Bombardment Wing, Heavy and March Air Force Base, (Riverside, CA: Office of History, 22d Bombardment Wing [H], 1969), 3. See also, Schroeder, Frederick A., DUCEMUS: WE LEAD, (Daytona Beach, FL: Hall Publishing, 1985), 3. Schroeder was a photographer in the 18th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron (later 408th Bomb Squadron) of the 22 BG. As a charter member of the 22 BG, he was an eyewitness to the group’s early activity in World War II. Though a “vanity press” publication, his book is a valuable collection of recollections from primary actors in the group’s activities.

5 Ibid., 3. Gaylor, Not to be Forgotten, 320. The 19th Bombardment Squadron’s B-26s were also “redecorated” by removing the camo paint scheme leaving the planes with their pristine shining metal skins. From that point forward, the 19th was known as the “Silver Fleet.”

6 Numerous Johnson biographers have written about Johnson’s activities during the early days of World War II. Several congressmen including Lyndon Johnson volunteered for service in the wake of Pearl Harbor. Both Robert Dallek and Doris Kearns Goodwin provided balanced looks at the TOW 9 mission. See, Dallek, Robert, Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1908 – 1960, (NY: Oxford University Press), 1992 and Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, (NY: St. Martin’s Press), 1991.

7 Distinguished Unit Citation dated 1945, Office of History, 22d Air Refueling Wing, Repository [Hereafter OHR].

8 Gaylor, Not to be Forgotten, 13. The wing’s heraldry as officially recognized is contained within Appendix 1 of this monograph.

9 Corken, Mary Elizabeth to Ruth Robinson, January 26, 1945, 22 Bomb Group Association (David Ghen Collection), www.klimesh.com/redraiders, accessed, 26 January 2005. The letter gives an account of circumstances regarding Robinson’s death and subsequent funeral.

10 Maurer, Maurer, Combat Squadrons of the Air Force World War II, (Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History, 1982), 12, 101,160, 499; Maurer, Air Force Combat Units of World War II, (Washington, D. C.: Office of Air Force History, 1983), 72.

11 Lineage and Honors History of the 22d Air Refueling Wing, OHR.

12 Futrell, Robert R., The United States Air Force in Korea, (Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1983), 74, 91.

13 Ibid.; Carson, Brief History, 8-10.

14 Price, Jay M., Wichita’s Legacy of Flight, (Charleston, SD: Arcadia Publishing, 2003), 98. Between 1956 and 1962, 467 of 744 B-52-Ds built rolled out of Boeing’s Plant II. Discussion of the KC-135’s relationship to the Boeing 707 airframe is discussed in Smith, Richard K., 75

Years of Inflight Refueling: Highlights, 1923 – 1998, (Washington, DC: Air Force History and Museum Program, 1998), 45.

15 Tagg, Lori S., Development of the B-52: The Wright Field Story, (Dayton, OH: History Office, Aeronautical Systems Center, 2004), 88.

16 Smith, 75 Years, 52.

17 Giroux, Vincent A., Seventy Years of Strategic Air Refueling, 1918 – 1988, A Chronology, (Omaha, NE: Office of the Historian, Headquarters Strategic Air Command, 1990), 58; Smith, Inflight Refueling, 75.

18 Matthews, James K. and Holt, Cora, So Many, So Much, So Far, So Fast: United States Transportation Command and Strategic Deployment for Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, (Washington, DC: Joint History Office, Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1996), 49 – 50. To get a compliment of Extender aircraft turned over to MAC for mobility missions took the direct involvement of MAC/CC General Hansford T. Johnson. SAC for its part was highly focused on refueling deploying fighter aircraft.

19 “Air Combat Command Activates,” Air Combat Command News Service, reprinted in
Contrails, June 5, 1992; Gen McPeak, Merrill A., memorandum reprinted as, “McPeak Welcomes New Commands,” Contrails, Jun 5 1992, OHR. From 1992 until early 1994 several issues of this base publication carried articles related to the restructure and subsequent move of the 22d Air Refueling Wing to McConnell Air Force Base.

20 Capt Cox, Larry, “New Host Wing Commander named; Bomber Unit Becomes Tenant
Group,” Contrails, November 19, 1993, OHR.

21 Rockwell Industries, “Pacer CRAG Program Review,” 13 – 14 November 1996, OHR

22 Air Force Outstanding Award Citations, August 1, 2002 – July 31 2004 and August 1 2004 – July 31, 2005, OHR.