351st ARS flies high after earning Gen. Carl A. Spaatz Trophy for ‘Outstanding Air Refueling Squadron 2022’

  • Published
  • By Karen Abeyasekere
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

The 351st Air Refueling Squadron have won the highly coveted Gen. Carl A. Spaatz trophy as “Outstanding Air Refueling Squadron 2022,” also proving themselves “Best in Air Force.”

The trophy – earned by the 351st ARS for the third time – puts them again at Number 1 of 59 air refueling squadrons within the U.S. Air Force, having previously won it in 2020 and 2013.

“We have the throttles all the way to the stops – they’re all the way there and bent a little bit, because we were pushing so hard!” exclaimed Lt. Col. Tyler Berge, 351st ARS commander. “It’s pretty cool that one of two squadrons outside of Air Mobility Command won it. This is the recognition for all the hard work our people have done, including the long weekends, holiday flying, being on a constant state of alert.”

The 351st ARS leaders explained that their squadron has a phenomenal list of accomplishments for 2022, including executing 1,382 missions over 8,000 flying hours – an 11 percent increase from 2021 and surpassing the next highest-flying ARS by 28 percent. They also flew 826 priority-one missions with record-breaking operations, by accomplishing 28 percent of global priority-one air refueling missions with only four percent of the KC-135 Total Force. Additionally, the squadron ensured 7,000 man-hours of non-stop, Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed alerts over four consecutive months, which, due to current world events, was a 5,000 percent increase from 2021. They also launched 26 no-fail missions, ensuring strategic posturing within the European Command area of operations.

“It’s the exclamation point to a very busy year,” said Senior Master Sgt. Christopher Staton, 351st ARS senior enlisted leader. “We are one of two operational KC-135 flying squadrons outside of CONUS. Our mission is operational air refueling, and we have missions being flown 24/7. I’m very proud of our crew force for answering our nation’s call with the professionalism and humility that they do. This is a team victory and it doesn’t happen without our squadron aviation resource management Airmen, medical teams, admin, civilian employees, and 100th Operations Support Squadron functions. Also, I couldn’t be more proud of our amazing maintenance team. Day in and day out, they keep these tankers up in the air.”

Engaged on two fronts as U.S. Air Forces in Europe’s sole air refueling squadron, the 351st ARS single-handedly supports the United Nations African counter-terrorism mission and NATO during the Russian War in Ukraine.

“We have our organize, train and equip (known as OTE) missions just like they do back at home stations in the U.S., but we also have to do the operational missions and balance both,” explained Berge. “Even though we were flying a crazy amount of hours for the last three years, we have over-flown what we’re supposed to for our flying hour program. This year we flew more than 8,000 hours, which is incredible! Last time we did anything close to that was when we were supporting operations in Libya, back in 2011.

“The home in-garrison role (OTE)is supposed to be before you deploy, getting everyone trained up, equipped to get the readiness to go out and execute the mission,” the commander added. “Because we’re here at a strategic forward base, while we do fill deployments, we do the same thing that units deployed to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, from Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, are doing right now. But they’re only focused on the flying those missions; we’re also doing upgrade training, orientation flights, and all the other things that go along with getting aircrew qualified and ready for their missions.”

The 351st ARS exceeded AMC’s goal for aircrew upgrade training by 1783 hours, ensuring 120 aircrew upgrades despite a 68 percent training cancellation rate due to higher headquarters taskings. Training lines were being canceled due to operational mission needs to support NATO in real-world events.

“We were always able to fulfill our requirement for alerts. Known as “ALFA” alert, it’s no-notice, where they call us and said ‘Go!’ and we run out to the jet and take off,” he remarked. “Usually, if we do anything like that then we do it from home (CONUS) and it’s a much longer timeframe. Essentially, since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, we’ve been doing it nonstop, and had two crews on alert at all times.

During this time, RAF Mildenhall’s 351’s ARS also delivered a strategic airbridge, refueling both AMC and 352nd Special Operations Wing assets for time-critical evacuations of the Ukranian and Ethiopian Embassies, ultimately bringing home 672 American citizens safely.

“I’m just super-proud of the people in our squadron,” remarked Staton. “I’m in awe of their resiliency to be able to take on the stress of these missions. When the war in Ukraine kicked off, we forward-deployed and gave our team 48-hours’ notice that we were packing up and leaving. That’s a hard pill to swallow when you have to tell your family, ‘We’re leaving, and we don’t know where we’re going; we’re out of here in two days and don’t know when we’ll be back’.”

The squadron’s hard work during 2022, paid off and the well-deserved Gen. Carl A. Spaatz Trophy is now display in the “Splasher 6” Heritage Room of the squadron’s building.

“Every day, this team just knocks it out of the park,” exclaimed Berge. “I’m most proud of how they persevered and worked through the challenges that came through this year, and the crazy success we’ve had – our mission-effectiveness rate is just through the roof, which is unheard of for a full year, yet we’re still able to take leave and get through upgrade training.

“We couldn’t have achieved this without the support of our families and spouses, as well as Team Mildenhall agencies,” he added. “We’ve had vital support from functions within the 100th OSS, 100th Maintenance Group, 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron and 100th Force Support Squadron. Whatever we’re doing, it seems to be working because of the tenacity and talent of our people!

“Earning this trophy is the cherry on top – everybody is extremely motivated for all the missions and what we support. There’s nothing that goes on in this area of responsibility without us being there; you can look at the way we support the 352nd SOW and every special operations mission; every time the President or high-visibility transfer comes through the area, we’re there. Anything that’s intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance-related, with supporting joint and NATO partners – we’re part of it, on top of everything else we have to do. So, it’s great to be recognized for all that work,” said Berge.