By Staff Sgt. Mackenzie Mendez, 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 14, 2021
A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing takes off at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, Oct. 8, 2020. The 100th ARW is the only permanent U.S. air refueling wing in the European theater, providing the critical air refueling "bridge" which allows the expeditionary Air Force to deploy around the globe at a moment's notice. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Lexie West)
Lt. Col. Ryan Ferdinandsen, 351st Air Refueling Squadron commander, congratulates the squadron on their win of the 2020 Gen. Carl A. Spaatz Trophy for best performing air refueling squadron in the U.S. Air Force during a commander’s call at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, May 11, 2021. Since the award’s inception, the award has only been won by an overseas squadron twice; the 351st ARS made history in 2014 as the first overseas unit to be named the most outstanding air refueling squadron in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Malissa Lott)
Airmen assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing discuss their emergency evacuation plan prior to participating in the Large Force Exercise at RAF Mildenhall, May 27, 2020. Airmen and aircraft from the 48th Fighter Wing, 31st Fighter Wing, 52nd Fighter Wing, and 100th Air Refueling Wing participated in this LFE. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Benjamin Cooper)
Airman 1st class David Liu, left, and Tech. Sgt. Brandon Roberts 351st Air Refueling Squadron boom operators, refuel a NATO E-3 Sentry from Geilenkirchen NATO Air Base over Germany, July 17, 2020. The 100th Air Refueling Wing is the only permanent U.S. air refueling wing in the European theater, providing the critical air refueling "bridge" which allows the Expeditionary Air Force to deploy around the globe at a moment's notice. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Emerson Nuñez)
Twelve KC-135 Stratotankers assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing taxi down the flightline during Exercise Wolff Pack at RAF Mildenhall, England, Sept. 29, 2020. The exercise is part of the 100th ARW’s continuous effort to improve its defense capabilities to ensure an advantage in resiliency, protect its assets and personnel, and support its allies and partnerships. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Emerson Nuñez)
The 2020 Gen. Carl A. Spaatz Trophy for best performing air refueling squadron in the U.S. Air Force has been awarded to the 351st Air Refueling Squadron, Royal Air Force Mildenhall, May 7.
Since the award’s inception, it has only been won by an overseas squadron twice; the 351st ARS made history in 2014 as the first overseas unit to be named the most outstanding air refueling squadron in the Air Force.
“In the midst of a global pandemic and strict U.K. lockdown, the men and women of the 351st ARS stepped up and answered the nation’s call, conducting operations at a record pace,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Ferdinandsen, 351st ARS commander. “We flew the most high priority Joint Chiefs of Staff missions of any other tanker unit in the Air Force.”
During 2020, the squadron supported and refueled more than 3,600 U.S. and NATO aircraft during approximately 1,500 flights. The squadron also continued their support of operation Juniper Micron, leading more than 150 missions in support of French combat operations in Africa. The ongoing support provided to the French’s anti-insurgent and counterterrorism operations is vital to the security and stability of the region.
The 351st ARS surpassed 59 other active duty, Guard and Reserve air refueling squadrons across the Air Force for the honor.
“As the sole tanker unit for two of the largest areas of responsibility in the world, this squadron consistently excels in a dynamic, high-pressure environment, driven by many no-notice high priority taskings,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jon Adams, 351st ARS superintendent. “These missions range from Presidential-directed support missions, to routine aerial refueling training missions, but have also included aeromedical evacuations in Africa, search and rescue operations, high profile intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support, special airlift missions and NATO air refueling support.”
The squadron increased their flying hour rate 27%, despite COVID-19 constraints and had the highest tanker flying hour program. The squadron completed over 12,000 flying events in the simulator, increasing simulator time by 350%, the highest KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft simulator time ever recorded.
“This was a team effort that not only took our active-duty Airmen leaning forward to answer the call in the middle of a global pandemic, but an amazing spouses group stepping in to provide crucial support to our Airmen in need,” said Ferdinandsen.
Throughout the year, the squadron supplied over 180 meals and support visits to 47 new Airmen and their families who arrived in the U.K. and entered the 14-day lockdown period. Spouses delivered meals, hand-crafted masks, led resiliency events and provided mental, physical, social and spiritual support.
“Our entire team comes together to orchestrate these missions 24/7; from SARM, to the medical personnel, to the aircrew, this feat could not have been accomplished without everyone’s hard work and dedication,” added Adams.
The 100th Maintenance Group also played an invaluable support role in securing the win for the 351st.
“We would not be here without the amazing support of our Bloody Hundredth maintainers who ensure we keep the oldest KC-135 Stratotanker fleet in the inventory up and flying,” said Ferdinandsen.
The squadron is grateful for the operations, maintenance and support relationship that ensures the safety and success of the 100th Air Refueling Wing’s mission of providing a ready force and strategic forward base, projecting airpower through unrivaled air refueling across Europe and Africa.
“What makes me most proud about this win is the nod to our amazing heritage and culture,” concluded Ferdinandsen. “The greatest generation of Airmen who started the Bloody Hundredth legacy during World War II, about an hour away at Thorpe Abbots, would be proud of our Airmen who continue to carry the torch forward. The legacy lives on!”