The 168th Air Refueling Wing (168 ARW) of the Alaska Air National Guard is the only Arctic region refueling unit for all of United States Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), and maintains a substantial number of personnel on active duty and civilian technician status in order to meet its daily operational requirements. The unit transfers more fuel than any other Air National Guard tanker wing, because nearly all receivers are active duty aircraft, many of which are on operational missions. The 168th ARW completed its R-model conversion in 1995, and in 2000 they completed a major flight deck upgrade called “Pacer CRAG” – with the CRAG standing for Compass, Radar, and GPS (Guidance Positioning System).
The Wing’s Primary Assigned Aircraft are eight KC-135 R-models assigned to the 168th Air Refueling Squadron.
The wing aircraft are identified with a blue tail stripe, and the name "Alaska".
Its aircraft were the Martin B-26 "Marauder" and in November 1944 they received the North American B-25 "Mitchell". The 437th served with distinction in both the European and Pacific theaters of World War II, earning the French Croix de Guerre (with palm) for action over Italy and France during April-June 1944, two Presidential Unit Citations for operations over Rome and Florence in 1944, and nine combat streamers for campaigns in which it flew. In January 1945 the 437th was transferred to Okinawa for participation in the Ryukyus Islands Campaign and the Air Offensive in Japan, the closing chapters of World War II.
In May 1946 the 437th was redesignated as the 168th Bombardment Squadron (Light) and allocated to the Illinois Air National Guard. It flew the B-26 Douglas “Invader” and was stationed at Chicago's Orchard Place Airport, now O'Hare International Airport. The unit was called to active duty for service in France from 1951-53 initially at Bordeaux-Merignac Air Base and later Laon-Couvron Air Base. In 1954 it was redesignated the 168th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, and flew the famous North American F-51 "Mustang". In 1955 it received the F-84F "Thunderstreak" jet, becoming the 168th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron. In 1957 it flew the F-86L "Sabre-jet”. In May 1958, the 168th's aircraft and personnel were assigned to other units, but the 168th's unit designation remained on the state's rolls -- a "technical deactivation". Almost thirty years later, the unit was reactivated as the 168th Air Refueling Squadron and assigned to the Alaska Air National Guard.
From a modest beginning in 1986, the unit has blossomed into Wing status and all the accouterments of a full Air Refueling Wing. The 168 ARW has command and control over thirteen subordinate assigned units whose missions include all aircraft maintenance for the PACAF-gained tankers, providing financial, transportation, contracting, and base supply resources, communications, data processing and visual information functions, organizational security, and disaster preparedness and air base operability. They also contain all personnel activities such as training, equal employment opportunity and recruiting, and limited diagnostic and therapeutic service in general medicine, flight medicine, bioenvironmental, environmental, and dental services.
Subordinate assigned units include four groups, the 168th Operations Group (OG), the 168th Maintenance Group (MXG), the 168th Mission Support Group (MSG), and the 168th Medical Group (MDG). The 168 OG includes the 213th Space Warning Squadron,168th Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) and the 168th Operations Support Flight (OSF), the 168 MXG includes the 168th Maintenance Squadron (MXS), the 168th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS), and the 168th Maintenance Operations Flight (MOF). Finally, the 168 MSG includes the 168th Security Forces Squadron (SFS), the 168th Logistics Readiness Squadron (LRS), the 168th Mission Support Flight (MSF), and the 168th Communications Flight (CF).
The 213th Space Warning Squadron (213th SWS), located at Clear Air Force Station, Alaska, is currently performing a transition of Clear AFS and its mission from the 13th Space Warning Squadron of the US Air Force. It is 40 miles north of Mount McKinley and 80 miles south of Fairbanks. The 213th SWS is responsible for providing tactical warning and attack assessment of a ballistic missile attack against the continental United States and southern Canada. Warning data from the unit is forwarded to the North American Aerospace Defense Command inside Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colorado. The squadron is also responsible for a portion of the Air Force Space Command Space Surveillance System and assists in tracking more than 9,500 space objects currently in Earth's orbit.
Because of Alaska's strategic location with regard to national defense, the mission and importance of the 168 ARW and the Alaska Air National Guard should continue to increase in the coming years. The 168 ARW has a remarkably broad range of responsibilities.
The upper right of the shield consists of a compass rose against a yellow background. The compass rose signifies the global nature of the Wing mission and is set at a 30 degree angle to the east representing the magnetic variation of Alaska where the Group was first formed. The yellow background represents the midnight sun at high latitude and the day aspect of the air refueling mission. The lower left of the shield depicts a red lightning bolt running from cloud to cloud against a blue background. The red lightning bolt signifies the projection of military power, the clouds are the medium in which it performs its mission, and the blue background the Arctic night and the night aspect of its mission. The red lightning bolt is also a prominent feature of the squadron patch from which the 168th Air Refueling Group/Wing evolved. Between the yellow and blue fields is a bar of ultramarine blue containing eight yellow stars. The ultramarine blue is Air Force blue representing the 168 ARW's role in the Total Force; it is also the background color of the Alaska flag. The eight yellow stars are the stars of the big dipper also found on the Alaska flag.