19th Air Refueling Group reflects on mission as deactivation date nears

  • Published
  • By Amanda Creel
  • 78 ABW/PA
When it comes to heritage, the 19th Air Refueling Group is always willing to celebrate the legacy of Black Knights past and present.

The realization today's Black Knights may be the last to carry the torch of the group can be disheartening. However, members of the group are choosing to celebrate the rich history and culture of the group, rather than dwelling on their impending deactivation in May 2008.

The group, which began in 1927 as the 19th Observation Group, an inactive Army Air Corp group, has served in one world war and at least 10 armed conflicts. The group was designated as a Bombardment Group in 1941 and made their mark on World War II, fighting as the long-range strike arm of the Far East Air Force.

In 1953 the group was inactivated and the 19th Bombardment Wing continued its legacy.
The unit didn't arrive at Robins until 1968. In 1983, the wing's sole mission became refueling as the last B-52 Stratofortresses were transferred to other units.

In 1996, the air refueling wing was redesignated as the 19th Air Refueling Group.

The group today has two vital capabilities: KC-135 Stratotanker air refueling and airlift and C-5 Galaxy isochronal inspections and field-level maintenance in partnership with the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center. The group is made of three squadrons: the 19th Maintenance Squadron, the 19th Operations Support Squadron and the 99th Air Refueling Squadron. The three squadrons work together to accomplish the diverse mission.

Members of the 19th ARG are proud to serve and are always willing to talk about what it means to be a Black Knight.

Members of the group said being a part of the group is something that will last forever.

"Once a Black Knight, always a Black Knight," said Tech. Sgt. Larry Prado, a lead technician for aerospace propulsion with the 19th MXS. "Just because we aren't part of the 19th anymore doesn't mean you aren't part of that heritage anymore."

It is evident the Airmen of the 19th ARG possess something that sets them apart from other Air Force units, whether they are a member of the air crew, a maintainer or an intelligence apprentice.

Maj. Paul Baker, the 99th ARS director of operations, said he hopes some of the heritage and traditions are preserved at their new venues.

One of the many things he said he hopes to see retain its glory as it moves on is Cherokee Rose, the aircraft named for the Georgia state flower and known for holding four world records, set in 1986 as a member of the Robins fleet. Today she is still a member of the 19th ARG team and is presently deployed in support of the warfighter.

Major Baker said it would be a shame for her to lose her nose art and the heritage behind it.

One thing the members are quick to point out is that even in the midst of closure, the group continues to surpass the barriers set before it.

Some of the group's most recent awards include earning an eighth consecutive Air Force Outstanding Unit Award. Along with earning the outstanding unit award, the group set a record for flight hours completed without a mishap for the third consecutive year. The group flew 9,883 hours, 214 percent of its programmed flying hours, setting this year's record with a fleet of only 12 KC-135s.

"Even still we are pressing through. We are still breaking through and doing better," said Airman 1st Class Caylon Kimball, an intelligence apprentice with the 19th Operations Support Squadron.

Members of the group say the drive to excel will stay with them even after they depart Robins because by being part of the group, you learn to succeed.

"All of us will overcome whatever challenges we face in the future," Sergeant Prado said.
Airman 1st Class Daniel Speir, said he was thrown by the Base Realignment and Closure decision to deactivate the Black Knights.

"I didn't know such a thing happened in the military. I was confused as to why the military would shut down a group with such a rich history," he said.

He added he understands now that with change comes growth and through the deactivation the Air Force is trying to become more lean and effective.

Members of the 19th ARG know their role is essential as the U.S. continues its efforts in both Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Sergeant Prado said "Knowing the work I did on engines enables aircraft to take off safely and complete missions and knowing what I did here touches other parts of the world," is what makes him proud to be a Black Knight.

The group's motto is, "In Alis Vincimus" which means "on wings we conquer."

Even in more recent history the group has proved the merit behind its motto by taking to the skies to defend the American way of life on Sept. 11.

"Within five hours of the attack, we were in the air refueling, protecting our nation," Sergeant Prado said.

Major Baker, a KC-135 pilot, said he is just glad he had the opportunity to join the fight against terrorism as a Black Knight.

"This is the first time I got to deploy post 9-11. I am glad to get back into the cockpit and participate in the Global War on Terror," he said.

However, even the Black Knights departure from Robins will be a bittersweet moment in the history of the group as they celebrate their 80th anniversary in October just months before their deactivation.

However, the group is choosing to focus on the grand celebration and the opportunity it brings for generations of Black Knights to come together and celebrate a tradition of excellence, rather than dwell on what they hope will only be a short pause to a heroic legacy.

"I just hope the Air Force community and the local community remember the 80 years of rich history," said Airman Speir, a support agreement manager with the group's support staff. "That rich history is very well rooted in the culture of the 19th and that type of culture is not developed over night."