60th Operations Group, Travis AFB, CA

There is a famous quote by US Army General John J. Pershing who said "Infantry wins battles, logistics wins wars". A key part of logistics is transportation and if operating overseas speed of delivery is often essential, making delivery by air the only viable means to get supplies where they are needed fast. For the US Armed Forces this role is carried out by the Air Mobility Wings of the US Air Force.

Nick Jennings reports from Travis Air Force Base on the 60th Operations Group. Photography by the author and Travis AFB personnel.

The story of the 60th began with the creation of the 60th Troop Carrier Wing in Germany in 1948. Flying C-54s, the Wing's squadrons were heavily involved in the Berlin Airlift, dropping much needed supplies. The Wing continued to serve in Europe until its deactivation in 1958. At the end of 1965 the 60th Military Airlift Wing was reactivated and replaced the 1501st as the host wing at Travis AFB. During this time the Wing operated a number of different transport types, including the C-124, C-130, C-133 and C-141. They also became the first Wing to be equipped with the new C-5 Galaxy when they replaced the C-141s of the 75th. The Wing were heavily involved in the Vietnam War, transporting cargo and supplies to bases throughout SE Asia, as well as being involved in Operations Babylift and New Life - the evacuation of nearly 1,800 child orphans to the United States. In another first for the Wing, they landed the first C-5 in Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze in 1989. With the restructuring of Military Airlift Command during the early 1990s, they were redesignated as the 60th Airlift Wing in 1991, before being redesignated again in 1994 as the 60th Air Mobility Wing.

Operating from the Travis Air Force Base complex, the 60th Air Mobility Wing is the largest airlift organisation in the USAF. Comprising nearly 7,000 active personnel, along with a further 2,000 reservists of the 349th AMW. It handles more cargo and passengers than any other military air terminal in the United States. The 60th AMW comprises four main groups - Operations, Maintenance, Mission Support and Medical. The Operations Group is the flying component of the AMW.

60th Operations Group

The 60th OG is responsible for strategic airlift and air refuelling missions - primarily in the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. Tracing its lineage back to the 60th Transport Group in 1940, over the years the Group has been disbanded and reactivated on multiple occasions. The Group has taken part in many important missions since its inception, including the Berlin Airlift - flying C-54s, Vietnam - earning three Outstanding Unit Awards, as well as playing a vital role in the Desert Shield and Desert Storm operations. For many years the Group was based in western Europe, before being reactivated at the end of 1965 and becoming the host unit at Travis Air Force Base.

As the flying component of the 60th AMW, the Operations Group is made up of four squadrons:

  • 6th Air Refuelling Squadron - KC-10A Extender
  • 9th Air Refuelling Squadron - KC-10A Extender
  • 21st Airlift Squadron - C-17A Globemaster III
  • 22nd Airlift Squadron - C-5M Super Galaxy

6th Air Refuelling Squadron

Originally activated as the 6th Bombardment Squadron in early 1940, the unit flew B-17 and B-18s before moving to B-29s as the Pacific War progressed, flying out of Guam. Following the end of hostilities the squadron was deactivated in 1946. In 1951 it was reactivated at Walker Air Force Base as the 6th Air Refuelling Squadron and equipped with the KB-29, however with its parent the 6th Bombardment Group switching to the B-36 Peacemaker - which had no air refuelling capability, the squadron was stood down only four months later. With the arrival of the B-52 Stratofortress there was again a need for air refuelling and the squadron was reactivated again in 1957, this time flying the KC-135. The retirement of early B-52 models from 1965 onwards eventually led to the closure of Walker AFB and the deactivation of the 6th ARS in 1967. It would be another 22 years before the 6th ARS would be reactivated, this time at March AFB and now equipped with the KC-10A Extender.

Following the invasion of Kuwait in the summer of 1990, the 6th ARS was tasked with round the clock flying operations in support of Allied forces. This is where the advantages of the KC-10 over the KC-135 became vitally important; equipped with both a boom and a 'hose and drogue' system, it meant the KC-10 could refuel aircraft from the USAF, US Navy, as well as other coalition air assets, in addition it also has a much larger fuel capacity than the venerable KC-135. Another advantage often overlooked is the ability to carry significant quantities of cargo in the KC-10 hold, something that became a necessity with the dedicated airlift assets already being tasked round the clock.

The 6th ARS was transferred to Travis AFB in 1995 and became a part of the 60th AMW. With the motto Vis Extensa (Strength Extended) the 6th ARS enables a global reach for US Armed Forces. The squadron is due to re-equip with the smaller KC-46 over the next few years, bringing to an end the KC-10's heavy tanker role.

9th Air Refuelling Squadron

Initially formed in 1942 as the 9th Photographic Squadron, the unit was equipped with F-4 Lightnings - a reconnaissance variant of the P-38 Lightning - operating from India flying photo recon during World War 2. Like many squadrons following the war it was deactivated. With the start of the Cold War and the United States' nascent jet bomber force, there was a requirement for refuelling squadrons to give these bombers a global reach. The 9th was reactivated in 1951 as the 9th Refuelling Squadron based at Davis Monthan AFB. Initially they flew the KB-29, before relocating to Mountain Home AFB and transitioning to the KC-97 Stratofreighter. The unit was deactivated in 1965 with the retirement of the KC-97 and the B-47s they used to refuel. In 1970 the 9th was reactivated, this time at Beale AFB with the KC-135, with the primary role of supporting the B-52 and SR-71 Blackbirds of the 9th Air Wing. The squadron was then briefly deactivated in 1985 before being reactivated at March AFB later that same year, and equipped with the KC-10A Extender that it flies now.

The 9th provided support for both Operation Urgent Fury and Operation Just Cause - the respective military operations in Grenada and Panama in the 1980s. Along with the 6th ARS they were also heavily involved in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, providing aerial refuelling support for coalition airpower. In addition to military operation support, the squadron also made use of the KC-10's cargo capability when they flew humanitarian missions as part of Operation Restore Hope - the supply of food and aid to Somalia. KC-10s were also used for the first time for evacuation of non-combatants in 2021 during Operation Allies Refuge, evacuating nearly 3,400 refugees from Afghanistan.

The squadron transferred to Travis AFB and moved under the 60th AMW in 1994; they currently share KC-10 assets with the 6th ARS, which means they will also transition to the KC-46 Pegasus over the next few years. The squadron's motto - Universal, summarises the variety of roles, operations and locations that the squadron can cover.

21st Airlift Squadron

Activated in Australia during April 1942, the 21st Transport Squadron initially flew a mix of impressed civilian DC-2 and DC-3s, before being redesignated the 21st Troop Carrier Squadron and being upgraded with C-46 Commandos and C-47 Skytrains. It remained in the New Guinea-Australia theatre during the course of the war. Following the start of the Korean War the 21st were relocated to Japan, where they carried out vital resupply missions to the Korean mainland, often operating from dirt strips - the unit participated in all major engagements, including the Sunchon airdrops. In 1958 the squadron began to receive its first C-130 Hercules', a type that would remain with the squadron for over 30 years. During the 1960s the squadron supported the buildup of US forces in SE Asia and in 1967 the unit was redesignated the 21st Tactical Airlift Squadron. The 21st were heavily involved during the Siege of Khe Sanh, providing airdrops and assault landings in support of the US forces trapped at the outpost. At the end of the Vietnam War the 'BEE Liners' as the 21st are known, were instrumental in repatriating US PoWs back to the US.

In 1993 as part of the realignment of Air Mobility Command the 21st moved from the South Pacific - where they had operated since 1942 - to Travis AFB. Here they converted from the C-130 to the C-5 Galaxy. Since then they have been involved in many humanitarian missions, including Rwanda, Haiti and Cuba, and they provided valuable firefighting equipment during the Los Angeles earthquake in 2001.

The unit began transitioning to the C-17A Globemaster III in 2006, when it welcomed its first C-17 - 'The Spirit of Solano'. Since then it has completed further important operations, including being the first C-17 into Haiti following the earthquake in 2010 and also a Bee Liner aircrew flew the last combat troops out of Iraq.

22nd Airlift Squadron

Like the 21st, the 22nd began life in Australia in 1942, as the 22nd Transport Squadron flying a mix of ex civilian DC-2 and DC-3s, these were quickly supplemented by C-56 and C-60 Lodestars. This mix of aircraft were then replaced by C-47s when the squadron was assigned to the 374th Troop Carrier Group. Flying from New Guinea - what is now Papua New Guinea - many operations were carried out flying over 'The Hump' (not to be confused with the Himalayan 'Hump'), a mountain range running along the island - this crossing has been commemorated on their squadron emblem. Following the end of hostilities the 22nd were deactivated in early 1946, however with the continued need for intra theatre transport within SE Asia the squadron was re-activated later that year and equipped with C-54s. With the situation in western Europe deteriorating, the 22nd was briefly relocated to Germany in 1948 to assist with the Berlin Airlift relief effort. Following the end of the Berlin Airlift the squadron relocated back to the Pacific at Tachikawa in Japan and was redesignated the 22nd Troop Carrier Squadron. With the start of hostilities in Korea, the 22nd was called upon to fly thousands of missions in support of UN troops from its base in Japan with its C-46 and C-54s. In 1952 the squadron was re-equipped with the intercontinental C-124 Globemaster II and started flying missions across the Pacific to bases in Hawaii and the mainland US, in the process earning the UN Medal for Humane Actions and the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation. It continued Pacific operations with the C-124, including operations in Vietnam, until the type's retirement in 1968 and the squadron's subsequent deactivation.

Four years later the squadron was reactivated at Travis AFB and placed under the 60th Military Airlift Wing, but now flying the C-5 Galaxy. Within a year the squadron was fully operational on the new aircraft and flying a full operational schedule, it was soon involved in evacuation efforts from Vietnam following the Paris Peace Accords in 1973. Alongside the 9th ARS they were involved in Operations Urgent Fury and Just Cause and would go on to play a massive logistics role during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in support of coalition forces in the Middle East. They have also been involved in humanitarian efforts around the world, including Bangladesh, Iraq, Philippines and Somalia.

The unit was redesignated as the 22nd Airlift Squadron in 1991. The 22nd is one of the most decorated airlift squadrons within the US Air Force, receiving eight Outstanding Unit Awards and four Presidential Unit Citations. Flying the largest transport aircraft in the USAF fleet means they are always in demand to transport oversize loads, and as the squadron say; they are ready to airlift "Anything, Anywhere, Anytime on a Moment's Notice."

Our thanks go to Capt. Jacobs and the Travis PAO for making this report possible.