Once an Okie, always an Okie: The History of Reserve Airmen at Tinker

  • Published
  • By Maj. Jon Quinlan
  • 507th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

U.S. Air Force Reserve units served here dating back to June 1946, when they were still part of the Army Air Forces. Since that time, Air Force Reserve units on base have flown bombers, trainers, transports, fighters and now command and control and aerial refueling aircraft.

Early Reserve personnel were used as “fillers” to meet worldwide requirements for strategic and tactical forces. These individuals were from stateside units who volunteered to augment the U.S. and allied forces overseas. The first Reservists served in the 177th Army Air Force Base Unit, which would eventually become the 310th Bomb Wing, Light in July 10, 1947. Records of the time indicate they trained in the AT-7 Navigator and AT-11 Kansan. They also operated one C-47 that was used primarily for transporting Reservists to training at Tinker Field. Unfortunately, most of those aircraft were destroyed in the infamous “Tinker Tornado” of March 20, 1948.

Early recruiting efforts in Oklahoma grew the 310th BW so quickly it was redesignated the 310th Air Division and became an administrative headquarters for the 323rd Bombardment Wing, Light, which activated in the Reserve June 27, 1949. The unit trained aircrew and maintainers on the B-26 Invader and reached peak strength of 1,259 Airmen in early 1951. For bombing practice, the unit used the artillery range at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in addition to ranges in New Mexico.

The 305th Troop Carrier Squadron activated here in 1957 to conduct routine Reserve training and operate the Douglas C-124 Globemaster II. This Reserve unit played an important role when it was called to active duty to provide worldwide transport and airlift during the Berlin Crisis of 1961.   

The 937th Troop Carrier Group, (later the 937th Air Transport Group and then 937th Military Airlift Group) activated here on January 17, 1963, due to a reorganization by Continental Air Command to better facilitate the mobilization of Reserve forces when needed. The 305th TCS served under the new group, which flew overseas missions in the Far East and Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. The 937th, also known as the “Sooner Group,” continued to operate until its inactivation as part of the retirement of the C-124 in 1972. This Reserve group was one of the last Air Force units to fly the C-124 and many Reserve Citizen Airmen transferred to the newest Reserve unit; the 507th Tactical Fighter Group. 

Previously known as the 507th Fighter Group, this unit already had an impressive history serving in World War II as bomber escorts in the Pacific Theater operating the Republic P-47N Thunderbolt long range escort fighter. The 507th FG earned the Distinguished Unit Citation for destroying enemy interceptor aircraft over Korea three days before the Japanese surrendered. Before its transfer into the Air Force Reserve, the unit operated at multiple locations flying the P-47, F-89D Scorpion, F-102 Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart. The unit was redesignated as the 507th Fighter Wing in 1961 to provide interceptor support and responded to the Cuban Missile Crisis with aircraft and crews on 15 minute alert status. The 507th FW was inactivated in 1968.    

On May 20, 1972, the 507th Tactical Fighter Group reactivated here and replaced the 937th Military Airlift Group for the Air Force Reserve. The group’s single operational flying squadron, the 465th Tactical Fighter Squadron, activated on the same date, equipped with the Republic F-105D Thunderchief aircraft. This made the 507th TFG the first Air Force Reserve group to have fighter aircraft in nearly twenty years.

During this time, the 507th TFG was the first Reserve group to participate in a Red Flag exercise and the first to deploy to Turkey for its annual tour of active duty.

The fighter pilot culture prevailed on the Reserve campus and the letters “SH” were proudly painted on the tail stabilizers of the jets. The two letter designator was specifically reserved for fighter aircraft and officially stood for “Sooner Home,” but “Okie” veterans may tell a different story of the true meaning of the historic tail flash which was apparently derived from a night of fighter pilots enjoying spirits and comradery.      

In 1980, the Okies of the 507th TFG Okies were re-equipped with the McDonnell Douglas “Mig Killer” F-4D Phantom II fighter aircraft. The unit converted again in 1988, operating and maintaining the F-16A/B Fighting Falcon aircraft until 1994.

In the early 1990s, active duty Air Force units underwent a downsizing and restructuring process. The restructure created a smaller Air Force, resulting in an emphasis on rapid deployment, self-sustainment and combat flexibility. Starting in 1992, the 507th TFG went through the first of many changes to align itself with the U.S. Air Force objective wing structure and to rapidly blend in with active forces in time of war or national emergency.

In February 1992, the 507th Tactical Fighter Group was renamed the 507th Fighter Group. Then, on Nov. 13, 1993, the 507th FG received a message from Headquarters Air Force Reserve that the unit would be redesignated as an air refueling group and convert from fighter to tanker aircraft.

On Jan. 21, 1994, by Special Order GB-0011, the 507th TFG converted to its current aerial refueling mission employing KC-135R “Stratotanker” aircraft and officially becoming the 507th Air Refueling Group. At the same time, the unit was reassigned from Tenth Air Force to Fourth Air Force and from Air Combat Command to Air Mobility Command. The unit’s entrance into the tanker mission ended more than 21 years of fighter jet missions.

The 507th ARG was redesignated as a wing on Oct. 1, 1994, and renamed the 507th Air Refueling Wing.

Then on Mar. 15, 1996, a new Air Force Reserve unit, the 513th Air Control Group (Associate) was officially activated and the 507th ARW was redesignated the 507th Wing. The wing was instrumental in bolstering the new unit and was now responsible for two airframes: the KC-135R and the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System, also known as AWACS.

However, the union was short lived, as the 513th ACG was reassigned to report to Tenth Air Force on April 1, 1997, and operational responsibility was shifted away from the 507th Wing. The 513th ACG is the only Reserve AWACS unit in the Air Force and continues to operate its command and control mission out of Tinker AFB today. The group is associated with the 552nd Air Control Wing and Reserve Citizen Airmen work side by side with active duty Airmen on AWACS and at Control and Reporting Centers around the world.        

On December 2, 1996, the 507th Wing officially started its air refueling tanker alert mission with crews on alert 24-hours a day for U.S. Strategic Command.   

The Air Force Reserve was designated the Air Force Reserve Command on Feb. 17, 1997, which gave the Air Force nine major commands. Then on Aug. 1, 1997, the 507th Wing reverted back to the 507th ARW.

The 507th ARW flew its first real-world tanker/airlift mission within a year of converting; delivering food and clothing supplies to flood victims in Georgia. Since then, the 507th ARW has supported nearly all major contingencies to include Operations Deny Flight, Joint Endeavor, Phoenix Tusk, Noble Eagle, Desert Shield, Desert Storm and others. On a daily basis, 507th ARW aircraft and Citizen Airmen can be found supporting the same missions as the active duty force around the world.  

This year marks the 45th Anniversary for the 507th ARW operating out of Tinker and although the unit has seen many name changes over the years, its basic mission has remained the same; to organize, train and equip combat-ready Citizen Airmen to provide strategic deterrence and global capabilities.

Approximately 1,350 men and women serve with the 507th ARW and the 513th ACG. The majority of members are traditional reservists, with approximately 200 members serving in a support capacity as traditional civilian employees or dual status Air Reserve Technicians. The 507th also administratively supports the 35th Combat Communications Squadron, 1st Aviation Standards Flight and the 10th Flight Test Squadron, which are currently active Air Force Reserve units on or near Tinker AFB. 

Reserve Citizen Airmen today are part of what is known to some as an operational Reserve. With the U.S. military’s constant activity around the world, the Air Force Reserve’s contributions have increased, making Reservists busier than ever.

Within the last 10 years, the 513th ACG activated multiple times to provide support airborne command and control over Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and the Arabian Gulf. The 507th ARW deployed aircraft and thousands of personnel in support of Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn, Inherent Resolve and Freedom’s Sentinel in Southwest Asia as part of the Global War on Terrorism and to end the spread of ISIS.

The 507th ARW flies two to three missions daily around the world in addition to its alert mission requirement. When needed, Reserve units here deploy in support of humanitarian relief efforts and have responded to natural disasters such as Oklahoma tornados and hurricanes in New Orleans, Texas and Florida, to name a few. Reservists in the 513th conduct daily flight and simulator training to maintain mission readiness.

All of these contributions make the Air Force Reserve a critical partner worldwide for National Defense, Tinker Air Force Base and the local communities of Oklahoma.  

(Staff Sgt. Patrick Haworth, 507th ARW historian contributed to this story)