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Twenty-five years of mission accomplishment

In an undated photo, a B-1 Bomber flying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom is refueled by a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 22nd Air Refueling Wing and flown by an 18th Air Refueling Squadron crew. The photo was taken by then-Senior Master Sgt. John Wallman, a boom operator belonging to the 18 ARS. The 931st began supporting OIF in March. 2003.

In an undated photo, a B-1 Bomber flying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom is refueled by a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 22nd Air Refueling Wing and flown by an 18th Air Refueling Squadron crew. The photo was taken by then-Senior Master Sgt. John Wallman, a boom operator belonging to the 18 ARS. The 931st began supporting OIF in March. 2003. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chief Master Sgt. John Wallman)

Col. Vik Malling, the first commander of the 931st Air Refueling Group, at McConnell poses on the flightline for a local paper announcing the establishment of the 931 ARG at McConnell in an undated photo at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan.  Then a Group, the 931st was the Air Force's first associate Reserve unit for the KC-135 Stratotanker.

Col. Vik Malling, the first commander of the 931st Air Refueling Group at McConnell, poses on the flightline for a local paper announcing the establishment of the 931 ARG at McConnell in an undated photo at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. Then a Group, the 931st was the Air Force's first associate Reserve unit for the KC-135 Stratotanker. (photo by Ken Mantyla)

In an undated photo, the original 931st Air Refueling Group KC-135 Stratotanker navigators pose for a photo at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. The 931st Air Refueling Wing, then a Group, stood up at McConnell Jan 1., 1995.  Members have traveled all over the world and been a major force in defending the United States.

In an undated photo, the original 931st Air Refueling Group KC-135 Stratotanker navigators pose for a photo at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. The 931st Air Refueling Wing, then a Group, stood up at McConnell Jan 1., 1995. Members have traveled all over the world and been a major force in defending the United States. (Courtesy photo)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. --

The 931st Air Refueling Group stood up at McConnell AFB Jan. 1, 1995. Five months later, the Group’s first mission, the refueling of the “Spirit of Kansas,” a B-2 bomber, was complete.

Retired Chief Master Sgt. Don Askren was a boom operator with the 18th Air Refueling Squadron on the historic first flight in June 1995.

“I had previously been flying KC-10s in North Carolina when I got the call [the 931st] needed boom operators,” he said. “It was about a month earlier than I was supposed to start with the unit, but I was in the car the next day to head down.”

Even then, Askren, who had already logged 6,500 flying hours before this, said he knew the flight was a big deal even at the time.

“I felt it was important for the Reserve to show that we were professional and that we could do it.”

Now a Wing, 931st members have deployed all over the world and been a major force in defending the United States.  This past year alone, the Wing accumulated more than 900 deployed man-days in support of Overseas Contingency Operations.

Chief Master Sgt. John Wallman, 924th Air Refueling Squadron superintendent, was part of the Group’s first deployment in 1999.

“I remember our first deployment was as the first Reserve KC-135 unit to be activated and deployed for Operations Allied Force and Northern Watch,” he said.  “We presidentially activated 1600 on Friday afternoon before a UTA and we deployed Sunday afternoon.”

In addition to the personnel of the then 931 ARG, Wallman said he felt compelled to join the 931s in its infancy because of the challenge.

“I felt like it was the chance to build a Reserve KC-135 flying squadron from the ground up and how often do you get to do that?”

Twenty-five years later, the air refueling mission hasn’t slowed down.  In addition to being selected as the first Reserve unit to fly and maintain the incoming KC-46 Pegasus tanker which it acquired in January 2019.

Col. Phil Heseltine, 931 ARW commander, also spoke of the importance of the Wing’s heritage, and where he sees it going in the future. 

"Our Airmen have travelled all over the world and played a major role in defending the United States," he said.  "In the air and on the ground, the 931st team has proven it’s a small unit that offers a big value to the Air Force and the American people.”

Col. Eric Vitosh, 931 ARW vice commander and acting commander from August 2017 to December 2018, agreed.

“Our unit truly has some of the best and brightest Airmen and I am honored to serve along with them,” said Col. Eric Vitosh, 931st Air Refueling Wing vice commander.