The 163rd Air Refueling Wing (ANG) is a tenant unit at March Air Reserve Base assigned to the Air Mobility Command and the California Air National Guard.
The 163rd began as the 196th Fighter Squadron on November 9, 1946. The unit was then located at nearby Norton AFB, in San Bernardino, California.
In June of 1948, the unit received 25 F-80C "Shooting Star" aircraft. The 196th was one of the first Air National Guard Units to receive these new jets.
The Air Force called the squadron to active duty on October 10, 1950 to assist United Nations Forces during the Korean Conflict. While stationed in Northern Japan, the unit flew F-84E "Thunderjets" side-by-side with regular active duty Air Force units, providing air defense for the area.
After fifteen months overseas, the 196th returned to the United States and resumed operations at Ontario international Airport in Ontario, California. The unit received and flew the F-51H "Mustang" as its primary mission aircraft, up to March 1954.
On May 17, 1958, the Air Force reorganized and expanded the 196th Fighter Interceptor Squadron into the 163rd Fighter Interceptor Group as part of the North American Defense Command. The unit progressed through the F-86 "Sabre" series of aircraft from 1954 to 1965. In 1965, the unit accepted the F-102 "Delta Dagger" as its new aircraft. Serving with distinction, the unit received two Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards for extended periods ending in 1964 and 1974.
On March 8, 1975, the unit once again took on the challenge of a new mission and was reassigned under the Tactical Air Command as the 163rd Tactical Air Support Group. The 163rd received the 0-2A/B "Super Skymaster" to accomplish the unit's new role.
In October of 1982, the 163rd officially assumed a tactical fighter role flying the F-4C "Phantom." The group concurrently moved to March AFB into new facilities built for the unit. The 163rd transitioned to the F-4E on April 1, 1987. This newer aircraft incorporated more sophisticated electronics and weaponry.
In July 1990, the unit once again changed missions and was redesignated the 163rd Tactical Reconnaissance Group. The 163rd was equipped with RF-4C aircraft and maintained a dual state/federal mission. The unit's primary mission was to provide tactical reconnaissance to all friendly forces. The unit was also actively involved in state wide missions. This was accomplished by using a system of visual, optical, electronic, and other sensory devices. During this time the aircrews accumulated over 30,000 hours of flying time and the unit deployed across both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
The 163rd deployed to Pisa, Italy, in support of Operation Decisive Endeavor. During that period, the unit also flew as the lead unit in support of flight operations over Bosnia.
In 1999, the 163rd deployed nearly 100 members and three KC-135R aircraft in support of Operation Allied Force. The 163rd flew combat missions around-the-clock refueling NATO aircraft, including complex night formation sorties with the F-117A.
1999 also saw the 163rd's Pacer CRAG conversion begin in June and complete by the end of the year. This extensive aircraft modernization project meant intensive aircrew training and is expected to extend the life of the 40 year-old Boeing jet beyond the year 2020.
In one of the highest profile military events of the year, nearly 100 members and three KC-135R aircraft from the 163rd Air Refueling Wing deployed in support of Operation Allied Force. The 163rd flew combat missions around-the- clock refueling NATO aircraft, including complex night formation sorties with the F-117A.
The Grizzlies were widely recognized for Wing and Squadron achievements in 1999 and earned the prestigious Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for the fourth time. The award covers a period during which the unit deployed 300 personnel and three aircraft to Pisa, Italy in support of Operation Decisive Endeavor and also flew as the lead unit in support of flight operations over Bosnia. The 163rd Operations Support Flight, 163rd Logistics Group, 163rd Logistics Squadron, and the 196th Air Refueling Squadron all earned the Governor's Outstanding Unit Citation.
The 163rd ARW provided support to NATO's Operation Joint Forge while deployed to Istres Air Base, France from 31 October through 3 December 2000, deploying three KC-135 Stratotanker air refueling aircraft along with nearly 210 personnel.
Under Air Expeditionary Force 9, the Grizzlies also sent personnel to Kuwait, Germany, France, Saudi Arabia and Turkey from October through December 2000.
The mission of the 163rd Air Refueling Wing, which the unit was redesignated to on October 1, 1993, is to maintain the capability to conduct air refueling or climate. We operate in that role as part of the Air Mobility Command commitment to Global Reach. We have flown to places such as Italy, England, Australia and Asia. The aircraft we fly have progressed from the KC-135E to the KC-135R.
In addition, the 163rd ARW provides assistance to the State of California, responding to state emergencies upon the Governor's request. The 163rd with more than 950 officers and airmen assigned, is composed of four primary groups; Logistics, Support, Operations, and Medical. The 163rd also serves as the support unit for three geographically separated units: the 147th Combat Communications Squadron (San Diego), the 148th Combat Communications Squadron (March), and the 222nd Combat Communications Squadron (Costa Mesa). These units comprise more than 450 officers and airmen.