31st Fighter Wing: Wikis


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31st Fighter Wing
31st Fighter Wing.png
Active 1 February 1940 – 7 November 1945
20 August 1946 — present
Country United States
Branch United States Air Force
Part of United States Air Forces Europe
Garrison/HQ Aviano Air Base
Motto Return With Honor
Vietnam Service Ribbon.svg
AFEMRib.svg KosovoRib.svg NATO Medal w Służbie Pokoju i Wolności BAR.svg
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary ribbon.svg Afghanistan Campaign ribbon.svg Iraq Campaign ribbon.svg
  • Vietnam Service (1966-1970)
  • Expeditionary Service
Operation Deny Flight
Operation Deliberate Force
Operation Decisive Edge
Operation Deliberate Guard
Operation Deliberate Forge
Operation Allied Force
  • NATO Service
Operation Joint Guardian
NATO Kosovo Service
  • Global War on Terrorism
Afghanistan Campaign (TBD)
Iraqi Campaign (TBD)
Decorations Presidential Unit Citation ribbon.svg DUC
Presidential Unit Citation ribbon.svg PUC
Outstanding Unit ribbon.svg AFOUA w/ V Device
Vietnam gallantry cross unit award-3d.svg RVGC w/ Palm
Brigadier General Charles Q. Brown, Jr.
Charles F. Wald

The 31st Fighter Wing (31 FW) is a United States Air Force unit assigned to the United States Air Forces in Europe Third Air Force. It is stationed at Aviano Air Base, Italy where it is also the host unit.

The 31 FW is the only United States Air Force fighter wing assigned south of the Alps in Europe. It maintains two F-16 fighter squadrons to conduct regional and expeditionary operations under NATO, SACEUR or national tasking.

The unit has a long and distinguished history. drawing its heritage from a history of superb performance in peacetime and in combat. It traces its lineage from the 31st Pursuit Group that activated at Selfridge Field, Michigan, on 1 February 1940, the 31st Fighter Group of World War II, and the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing from the Vietnam War. The 31st Fighter Group fought in North Africa and Italy during the war as part of Twelfth Air Force, returning to Drew Field, Florida in August 1945 where it was inactivated.

A Strategic Air Command Fighter-Escort wing during the early years of the Cold War, the 31st TFW stood air defense alert during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Oct-Nov 1962. Moved to Southeast Asia in Dec 1966 and conducted combat operations, 16 Dec 1966-Sep 1970. Controlled interdiction strikes, conducted visual and photo reconnaissance, rescue combat air patrols, and suppressed enemy antiaircraft artillery. The 31st moved to Italy in Apr 1994 without personnel and equipment, replacing the 401st Fighter Wing as host wing at Aviano AB. In the early 1990s, it participated in major Balkan operations and has deployed elements to Air Expeditionary units as part of the Global War on Terrorism after 9/11/2001.

The commander of the 31st Fighter Wing is Brig. Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr.. The Command Chief Master Sergeant is Chief Master Sergeant Laten D. Williams.



During a NATO crisis, the wing's operational forces become part of the 5th Allied Tactical Air Force, located at Vicenza, Italy. This, and its strategic location, makes the wing critical to operations in NATO's southern region.

In peacetime, the 31st Fighter Wing prepares for its combat role by maintaining its aircraft and personnel in a high state of readiness.

The mission of the 31st Fighter Wing is:

  • Conducting air and space combat support operations in Europe's Southern region
  • Conducting regional and expeditionary operations under NATO, SACEUR or national tasking with conventional and non-conventional munitions
  • Maintaining an air control squadron capable of air surveillance, control and communications
  • Providing command, control and support functions

Beginning July 1994, the wing provided combat support for NATO's first-ever operational mission, Deny Flight. In August and September 1995, 31st FW F-16s flew more than 400 combat sorties during Operation Deliberate Force. With the formal signing of the Dayton Peace Accord, Operation Deny Flight ended and the wing's emphasis shifted to support what is now Operation Deliberate Forge. And in March 1999, in support of Operation Allied Force, U.S. and allied forces assembled at Aviano Air Base, Italy, to react if called upon by NATO leadership.

Global War on Terrorism

The 31 FW provides and supports dominant, expeditionary air combat in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Currently, the wing accomplishes this goal by deploying people and equipment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.


  • 31st Maintenance Group (31 MXG)
    • 31st Maintenance Squadron (31 MXS)
    • 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (31 AMXS)
    • 31st Maintenance Operations Squadron (31 MOS)
  • 31st Mission Support Group (31 MSG)
    • 31st Contracting Squadron (31 CONS)
    • 31st Security Forces Squadron (31 SFS)
    • 31st Force Support Squadron (31 FSS)
    • 31st Logistics Readiness Squadron (31 LRS)
    • 31st Communications Squadron (31 CS)
    • 31st Civil Engineering Squadron (31 CES)
  • 31st Medical Group (31 MDG)
    • 31st Medical Operations Squadron (31 MDOS)
    • 31st Medical Support Squadron (31 MDSS)

The 31st FW also includes the 603rd Air Control Squadron, capable of providing air surveillance, control and communications. Additionally, the 31st Comptroller Squadron (31 CPTS) reports directly to the wing staff.


See 31st Operations Group for additional lineage and timeline information.


  • Established as 31st Fighter Wing on 6 November 1947
Organized on 20 November 1947
Redesignated: 31st Fighter-Bomber Wing on 20 January 1950
Redesignated: 31st Fighter-Escort Wing on 16 July 1950
Redesignated: 31st Strategic Fighter Wing on 20 January 1953
Redesignated: 31st Fighter-Bomber Wing on 1 April 1957
Redesignated: 31st Tactical Fighter Wing on 1 July 1958
Redesignated: 31st Tactical Training Wing on 30 March 1981
Redesignated: 31st Tactical Fighter Wing on 1 October 1985
Redesignated: 31st Fighter Wing on 1 October 1991.


Attached to 39th Air Division [Defense], 10 Jul-11 Oct 1952 and 10 Nov 1953-12 Feb 1954
Attached to: Air Force Atlantic Command, 24 Oct-9 Nov 1962
Attached to: 1 Air Division Provisional, 10 Nov-c. 30 Nov 1962
Attached to Seventh Air Force, 16-24 Dec 1966





Aircraft operated

Operational history

Cold War

Emblem of the 31st Fighter Wing (1940s)
General Motors F-84F-25-GK Thunderstreaks of the 31st Fighter Escort Wing, about 1952. Serial 51-9378 identifiable
Colonel David Schilling leads wing out of Hickam Field, Hawaii, on their way from Georgia to Japan.

The 31st Fighter Wing was established on 6 Nov 1947 and organized on 20 Nov 1947 at Turner Field (later, AFB), Georgia as a result of the Hobson Base-Wing Plan which created a Wing to command the functions of both the support groups as well as flying combat air groups. The 31st Fighter Wing was assigned to Ninth Air Force under Continental Air Command's Tactical Air Command. The 31st Fighter Group was its operational component, consisting of the 307th, 308th and 309th Fighter Squadrons.

Under TAC, the 31st FW was initially equipped assigned F-51D Mustangs, the wing began converting to F-84D Thunderjets in August 1948, and trained to achieve tactical proficiency from 1947-1950.

Strategic Air Command

On 20 January 1950 the wing redesignated as the 31st Fighter-Bomber Wing and was transferred from Tactical Air Command to the Strategic Air Command Second Air Force. With the transfer, the wing was redesignated as the 31st Fighter-Escort Wing on 16 July 1950, reflecting the Wing's new mission to escort SAC's intercontinental Boeing B-29 and Boeing B-50 Stratofortress bomber fleet. The older F-84Ds were replaced by brand-new F-84E aircraft which more suitable for the escort role, and the 31st was charged with performing accelerated service tests on them.

Beginning in December 1950 through July 1951, all tactical and most support components deployed to RAF Manston, England. The remaining components of the 31st at Turner were backfilled by the Federalized New Jersey Air National Guard 108th Strategic Fighter Wing with 141st, 149th and 153d Strategic Fighter Squadrons. Once in England, the wing participated in goodwill missions to Norway and flew escort missions with deployed SAC bomber units at other English bases.

The 31st FEW was replaced at Marston on 21 July by the arrival of the 12th Fighter-Escort Wing from Bergstrom AFB, Texas, the deployment of the 12th FEW to England being titled Fox Able 12. The 31st returned to Turner on the same aircraft that had brought the 12th FEW to England, being titled Fox Abld 11, although neither operation involved any trans-Atlantic movement of tactical aircraft. All of the 31st FEW F-84Es were transferred to the 12th at Marston.

Upon their return to Turner AFB, the 31st FEW obtained ten F-84Es from the 27th FEW to begin an anticipated transition to that model. Through the fall of 1951, the 31st FEW practiced air refueling techniques, and in November the 108th FBW was reassigned to Godman AFB, Kentucky. However many of the 108th's personnel were reassigned to either Lockbourne AFB, Ohio or Hunter AFB, Georgia to staff new SAC wings that those bases.

The wing pioneered the development of in-flight refueling tactics. On 4 July 1952 the wing executed Operation Fox Peter One, the mass movement of the entire wing from Turner Field, Georgia, to Misawa Air Base, Japan, using aerial refueling to fly non-stop from Turner to Travis AFB, California, and from Travis to Hickam AFB, Hawaii. The unit then island-hopped across the rest of the Pacific with stops at Midway and Wake Island; Eniwetok Atoll; Guam; Iwo Jima, and Yokota AB, Japan. The sheer magnitude of the accomplishment was sufficient to name the 31st Fighter-Escort Wing as the recipient of the first-ever Air Force Outstanding Unit Award. This movement included the longest over-water flight attempted to that date, and was the first trans-Pacific mass flight of jet aircraft.

F-100s assigned to the 31 TFW on the ramp at George AFB, CA, 1961.
F-100s dispersed on the flightline at Homestead AFB, Florida during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

As an encore, on 20 August 1953 the 31st FEW deployed eight F-84s on a 10½-hour non-stop flight from Turner Field to Nouasseur Air Base, French Morocco during "Operation Longstride". This exercise included three air refuelings by the newly operational SAC KC-97 Stratotanker operating from Kindley AFB, Bermuda and Lajes Air Base, Azores. This successful flight culminated in the 40th Air Division of the Strategic Air Command receiving the Mackay Trophy for 1953. The wing received yet another designation change on 20 January 1953 when it became known as the 31st Strategic Fighter Wing. During this time the wing deployed (on temporary 30-day assignments) to Japan and Alaska to provide air defense in the northern Pacific. The wing also assumed the role of in-flight refueling with the assignment of the 58th Air Refueling Squadron on 11 May 1956.

Tactical Air Command

On 1 April 1957 the 31st except for the 58 ARS, was transferred back to Tactical Air Command at Turner and was redesignated as the 31st Fighter-Bomber Wing when re-equipped with the new North American F-100C Super Sabres. In September 1957 a fourth fighter squadron, the 306th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, was activated and assigned to the wing.

The wing rotated tactical components to Alaska in 1956 and 1957 and to Europe in 1958 and 1959. It became non-operational at Turner on 15 March 1959 and was transferred to George Air Force Base, California, and absorbed the personnel and equipment of the 413th Fighter-Day Wing that date.

At George, the 31st was redesignated the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing on 1 July 1958 as part of an Air Force wide naming reorganization. The wing deployed units for four-month alert rotations to Moron AB, Spain and Aviano AB, Italy. During the Berlin Crisis in October and November 1961, the 309th Fighter Squadron deployed to Spangdahlem AB, West Germany to bolster the US military forces in Europe.

The wing was reassigned to Homestead Air Force Base, Florida, in May 1962 when Homestead gained a Tactical Air Command mission, and subsequently stood air defense alert during the Cuban Missile Crisis from October-November 1962. The wing also maintained tactical proficiency by participating in exercises, firepower demonstrations, and by rotating tactical components overseas. In 1963 the wing earned a second Outstanding Unit Award in for achievements attained in 1962.

On 8 February 1964 the 308th Fighter Squadron flew a non-stop mission from Homestead AFB, Florida, to Cigli Air Base, Turkey. The 6,600 mile trip required eight in-flight refuelings and set a new record for the longest mass flight of jet aircraft to cross the Atlantic. The flight also led to the wing receiving the Tactical Air Command Outstanding Fighter Wing Award for 1964, the second consecutive year it won that prestigious award.

Vietnam War

North American F-100D-60-NA Super Sabres Serials 56-2927 (Front) and 56-2952 of the 309th TFS on the ramp at Tuy Hoa AB South Vietnam, April 1970.

During the mid-1960s demands from both NATO and the Vietnam War led to the division of the 31st TFW into several segments.

In June 1965 the 307 TFS deployed to Bien Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam; the 308 TFS replaced them in December, having moved there as a permanent change of station.

In April 1966, the 307th TFS was permanently reassigned to the 401st TFW at Torrejon Air Base, Spain to accommodate USAFE requirements. The 31st TFW and its remaining three fighter squadrons were deployed to Tuy Hoa Air Base South Vietnam on 16 December 1966 and was reassigned to Pacific Air Forces (PACAF).

The 31 TFW arrived at Tuy Hoa AB, and was assigned to the Seventh Air Force, on Christmas Day 1966. In South Vietnam the 31st TFW commanded five F-100 squadrons and was the most important F-100 wing in South Vietnam. From Tuy Hoa, the wing conducted combat operations, 16 December 1966-September 1970. It controlled interdiction strikes, conducted visual and photo reconnaissance, rescue combat air patrols, and suppressed enemy antiaircraft artillery. The wing also conducted air operations against enemy forces during the Tet Offensive and the Siege of Khe Sanh from February-April 1968. It flew close air support missions during the extraction of friendly troops from Kham Duc on 12 May 1968. The wing gained forward air control mission in May 1968.

They reached 100,000 combat sortie milestone in September 1969. The wing earned two Outstanding Unit Awards, one with Combat “V” Device, a Presidential Unit Citation, two Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Crosses with Palm, and ten Campaign Streamers for action in Vietnam.

The 31st TFW was deactivated in Southeast Asia on 15 October 1970 as part of the general US withdrawal from South Vietnam. On 16 October it was reactivated without personnel or equipment at Homestead Air Force Base, Florida.

Post Vietnam

McDonnell Douglas F-4E-37-MC Phantom 68-0365 of the 309th TFS, about 1971.
General Dynamics F-16A Block 15Q Fighting Falcon 83-1080 of the 308th FS, about 1988.

In July 1971, the 306 TFS inactivated and the 307 TFS moved without personnel or equipment to Homestead AFB, returning the wing to its original squadrons. With its return to Homestead, the 31st TFW was re-equipped with the F-4E Phantom II.

The wing assumed a dual-role function with the primary mission of air defense of the southern Florida and the secondary as a replacement training unit. The 307 TFS and 309 TFS were designated to perform the pilot replacement training. From April to August 1972 the 308 TFS deployed to Udorn Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand to augment tactical air forces already deployed to that country, followed in July by the 307 TFS. The 308 TFS completed the wing’s final deployment to Southeast Asia from December 1972 to June 1973.

The wing assumed primary responsibility for air defense in southern Florida on 1 April 1976 and advised Air National Guard fighter units on operational matters.

In September 1979-September 1980 it transferred nearly half of its F-4E aircraft to Egypt under Project PEACE PHARAOH], the F-4E's being replaced by F-4Ds and in 1981, the 31st TFW and Homestead AFB again took on a new task: the training of F-4 aircrews. On 31 March 1981 the 31st TFW became the 31st Tactical Training Wing. The wing continued to operate as an F-4 combat crew training unit but relinquished its Florida air defense commitment in October 1983.

Training was to remain the wing's primary mission until 1 October 1985 the wing converted to the General Dynamics Block 15 F-16A/B Fighting Falcon and returned to an operational tactical fighter wing status. F-4 training operations continued for several more years until last F-4 training class graduated in May 1988. Subsequently, the wing became a fully operational F-16 wing and maintained readiness for worldwide deployment carrying either conventional or nuclear weapons. However, with the arrival of the F-16s, the 306th TFS was again deactivated. Also the tail code of the 31st changed to "HS" on 1 December 1986.

On 28 October 1991 the designation of the wing was changed to the 31st Fighter Wing with the implementation of the Objective Organization.. Also the 31st Operations Group was established to control the wings operational components and fighter squadrons. Also, the fighter squadrons of the 31 OG were upgraded to the Block 40 F-16C/D. On 1 June 1992 the wing was assigned to the new Air Combat Command.

Hurricane Andrew

The damaged control tower and base operations building on Homestead AFB, Florida, after Hurricane Andrew smashed into the base on 24 August 1992.

On 24 August 1992, much of Homestead Air Force Base's physical plant was destroyed or severely damaged by Hurricane Andrew. Just prior to the storm's landfall in Southeast Florida, the 31st TFW dispersed its fighter squadrons to safe areas away from the storm's path. These locations were:

The effects of Hurricane Andrew caused the almost total destruction of Homestead Air Force Base. Every building received some damage, many buildings were destroyed.

In the aftermath, although both President George H. W. Bush and President Clinton promised to rebuild Homestead, the Secretary of Defense recommended complete closure of the base. In June 1993, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommended to realign the base under the Air Force Reserve, with the 31st Fighter Wing's squadrons being permanently reassigned to their dispersal bases, Moody AFB and Shaw AFB on 1 October 1992, and the subsequent inactivation of the 31st Fighter Wing. The remaining wing elements worked to clean up and salvage government property at Homestead.

Air Force leadership had been looking at the whole realignment process following the end of the Cold War and they discovered that the Air Force was losing its heritage. When a base closed, the unit assigned to the base typically inactivated. With so many base closures taking place, many of the most significant wings were being inactivated, along with their history and heritage. In order to stop the trend, Air Force Chief of Staff, General Merrill McPeak, initiated a program whereby units in danger of being inactivated would be compared to another unit to determine which was the most significant, and move the most significant unit to keep its history active. Such was the case of the 31st Fighter Wing.

United States Air Forces In Europe

activation ceremony for the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano AB, Italy, on 1 April 1994.
Timeline of Balkan Operations, 31st Fighter Wing
31st FW General Dynamics F-16DG Block 40D Fighting Falcon Serial 90-0795

As the highest scoring Army Air Force unit in the Mediterranean Theater in WWII, added to their combat record in Vietnam and the number of significant firsts they produced in the early years of the Air Force, the 31 FW was chosen to move rather than fade into obscurity. So on 1 April 1994, the 31st Fighter Wing inactivated at Homestead AFB, Florida, and subsequently activated at Aviano AB, Italy, in place of the 401st Fighter Wing.

In Europe, the 31st FW is the only U.S. fighter wing south of the Alps. During a NATO crisis, the wing's operational forces become part of the 5th Allied Tactical Air Force, located at Vicenza, Italy. This, and its strategic location, makes the wing critical to operations in NATO's southern region. The 31st FW also supports three geographically-separated units: The 712th Munitions Squadron and 704th Munitions Support Squadron, Ghedi Air Base, Italy and the 496th Air Base Squadron, Morón Air Base, Spain.

The 31 FW received two new squadrons at that time, the 510th and 555th Fighter Squadrons, along with their Block-40 F-16s.

Yugoslavian Civil War

Upon activation at Aviano on 1 April 1994, the 31st Fighter Wing’s (31 FW) new mission centered on efforts to contain the civil war in Yugoslavia.

On 31 March 1993, the United Nations (UN) Security Council passed Resolution 816, authorizing UN and NATO military action in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The wing's role in this peacekeeping mission consisted of a series of air operations: DENY FLIGHT, DELIBERATE FORCE, DECISIVE EDGE, DELIBERATE GUARD, and DELIBERATE FORGE.

One month after arriving at Aviano AB, the wing began flying contingency operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In May 1994, the 31 FW’s 555 FS started operations in support of Operation DENY FLIGHT, and by September of the same year, the 510th joined her sister squadron. Both squadrons conducted daily sorties with other NATO forces, enforcing the no fly zone (NFZ) over the region. By 28 August 1995, the wing had flown 1,644 sorties in support of Operation DENY FLIGHT.

On 2 June 1995, Bosnian Serb Forces shot down Captain Scott O’Grady, a 555th Fighter Squadron F-16 pilot, behind enemy lines. Captain O’Grady spent the next six days evading Bosnian Serb Forces by moving during the night and hiding during the day. Finally, on 8 June, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit rescued Captain O’Grady and he returned unharmed to Aviano and a hero’s welcome.

In 1999 USAFE activated the 31st Air Expeditionary Wing-NOBLE ANVIL at Aviano AB, Italy, for Operation ALLIED FORCE, the NATO operation to stop Serbian atrocities in the Province of Kosovo. Assigned under a joint task force, the 31 AEW flew from Aviano and joined NATO allies in a 78-day air campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia). From 24 March-10 June 1999, the 31 AEW, the largest expeditionary wing in Air Force history, flew nearly 9,000 combat sorties and accumulated almost 40,000 hours of combat service over the skies of Kosovo, Serbia, and the rest of the Balkans in support of NATO operations. The wing accomplished much during OAF as the two permanently assigned flying squadrons, the 510 FS and 555 FS, combined for over 2,400 sorties and over 10,000 combat hours. Additionally, as the first Aviano OAF squadrons to fly 1,000 combat sorties, 555 FS reached the 1,000 combat sortie mark on 27 May 1999 and the 510 FS followed suit two days later. Simply, the 31 FW operators, maintainers, and supporters proudly accomplished the NATO mission.

Following the end of Operation ALLIED FORCE (OAF) in June 1999, the 31st Fighter Wing became fully entrenched in the Expeditionary Air Force. With the exception of a deployment to Operation NORTHERN WATCH (ONW) in 1998, the wing had not deployed to support a contingency operation since before it activated at Aviano. Instead, the wing fought “in place,” supporting operations in the Balkans.

On 29 August 1995, in response to the Bosnian Serb’s shelling of Sarajevo’s central market, NATO initiated Operation DELIBERATE FORCE. This military action resulted in the largest air assault in NATO’s history. The 31 FW increased its involvement and support to NATO forces during this 23-day operation, flying an average of 18 sorties a day for a total of 418 sorties. After reducing the threat to Sarajevo and other UN safe havens, NATO and the UN ended Operation DELIBERATE FORCE on 21 September 1995.

On 21 September 1995, with the completion of Operation DELIBERATE FORCE, Operation DENY FLIGHT resumed. The wing continued daily missions to enforce the NFZ over Bosnia-Herzegovina, and by 20 December 1995, had flown a total of 303 sorties. On 15 December 1995, UN Security Council Resolution 816 expired and with it authority for Operation DENY FLIGHT. The UN agreed to terminate the operation and officially turned over authority for the security of Bosnia-Herzegovina to the NATO Implementation Force (IFOR) on 20 December 1995.

On 20 December 1995, NATO’s IFOR began Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR. The air portion of this mission, called Operation DECISIVE EDGE, ensured Aviano-based aircraft continued to maintain the security of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The 31 FW continued daily flights over the area and, as of 20 December 1996, had flown a total of 1,088 sorties for this operation.

On 20 December 1996, Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR concluded and NATO forces began operating under Operation JOINT GUARD. This new NATO operation also affected the air mission, which changed from Operation DECISIVE EDGE to Operation DELIBERATE GUARD. This new operation implemented by NATO’s Stabilization Forces (SFOR, previously IFOR), became one of stabilization to give civilian agencies the opportunity and time to become functional and operational. The 31 FW continued to fly sorties in support of SFOR requirements, and by the end of Operation DELIBERATE GUARD, 20 June 1998, had flown a total of 1,632 sorties in these ongoing peacekeeping efforts. On 20 June 1998, peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia- Herzegovinia continued under Operation DELIBERATE FORGE

In the midst of DELIBERATE GUARD operations, the wing also supported generated sorties in support of Operation SILVER WAKE, the emergency evacuation of U.S. citizens and designated third country nationals from Tirana, Albania. From 14–26 March 1997, the 510th flew in support of the evacuations. The sortie totals for SILVER WAKE are included in the wing’s DELIBERATE GUARD sortie figures.

31st Air Expeditionary Wing
Emblem of the 31st Air Expeditionary Wing

From 24 March-10 June 1999, the 31 AEW flew in OAF. The AEW, the largest expeditionary wing in air force history, flew nearly 9,000 combat sorties and accumulated almost 40,000 hours of combat service over the skies of Kosovo, Serbia, and the rest of the Balkans in support of NATO operations

The wing accomplished much during OAF as the two permanently assigned flying squadrons, the 510 FS and 555 FS, combined for over 2,400 sorties and over 10,000 combat hours. Additionally, as the first Aviano OAF squadrons to fly 1,000 combat sorties, 555FS reached the 1,000 combat sortie mark on 27 May 1999 and the 510 FS followed suit two days later. Simply, the 31 FW operators, maintainers, and supporters proudly accomplished the NATO mission.

Following the end of Operation ALLIED FORCE (OAF) in June 1999, the 31st Fighter Wing became fully entrenched in the Expeditionary Air Force. With the exception of a deployment to Operation NORTHERN WATCH (ONW) in 1998, the wing had not deployed to support a contingency operation since before it activated at Aviano. Instead, the wing fought “in place,” supporting operations in the Balkans.

In addition to the contingency deployments discussed below, the “Buzzards” of the 510th Fighter Squadron and 555th Fighter Squadron “Triple Nickel” continued to fly sorties over the Balkans in support of Operations DELIBERATE FORGE.1 DELIBERATE FORGE operations over Bosnia began on 20 June 1998. These sorties supported NATO’s Stabilization Forces (SFOR) by supporting ground operations and enforcing the no-fly zone (NFZ). The wing suspended DELIBERATE FORGE sorties with the start of Operation ALLIED FORCE in March 1999.

Sortie reporting for DELIBERATE FORGE ended in advance of ALLIED FORCE. On 11 June 1999, the day after ALLIED FORCE sorties ceased, Operation JOINT GUARDIAN began. JOINT GUARDIAN involved enforcement of the NFZ over Kosovo and support of NATO’s Kosovo Forces (KFOR). Following the end of ALLIED FORCE, all Balkan sorties were reported as JOINT GUARDIAN sorties. Though the historical record is not clear on this point, the end of ALLIED FORCE most likely saw the resumption of JOINT FORGE sorties over Bosnia and the initiation of JOINT GUARDIAN sorties over Kosovo; all the sorties were logged as JOINT GUARDIAN sorties. Reporting for JOINT GUARDIAN ended in March 2002 and all subsequent sorties fell under DELIBERATE FORGE. To this day pilots from the 31 FW continue to fly sorties in support of DELIBERATE FORGE.

Modern era
Members of the 603rd Air Control Squadron in Afghanistan in 2003

In 2000, the wing began its full-fledged participation in the Expeditionary Air Force. From March to September 2000, the 510th and 555th Fighter Squadrons conducted back-to-back deployments to a forward Southwest Asia location, in support of Operation Southern WATCH (OSW). While at the forward location, the squadrons flew over 400 combat sorties providing precision-guided munitions (PGM) delivery while patrolling the southern NFZ.

From February to June 2001, the Scorpions of the 603d Air Control Squadron (603 ACS) deployed to another forward location. As the core of the 386th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron, the 121 personnel of the 603d served as the primary air control squadron for OSW. Significantly, the deployment marked the first-ever deployment of the 603d outside of Europe. Later in the 2001, the Buzzards and Triple Nickel flew in support of ONW. From June through December, the squadrons provided Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) while enforcing the northern NFZ

Significantly, the next AEF deployment for the fighter squadrons saw the 555th return to Incirlik. From late March to early May, the Nickel deployed 88 personnel and five aircraft in support of ONW, again providing CSAR support

The fall and winter of 2002 saw the wing’s largest ever deployment effort since arriving at Aviano. From August to December 2002, the 510th and 603d returned to Southwest Asia. The 603d again supported OSW while the 510th supported OSW and missions over Afghanistan in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF). Additionally, the 555th deployed its personnel and aircraft, including those personnel and aircraft not deployed with the 510th, to Decimomannu AB, Sardinia. Runway construction motivated the temporary relocation. The squadrons returned to Aviano by year’s end

In late November 2002, the 555 FS deployed to Caslav AB, Czech Republic, to provide combat air patrols over the site of the NATO Summit. The deployment included the real world diversion of an unidentified airliner

Operation Iraqi Freedom
Members of the 31st Civil Engineer Squadron during a deployment in 2005.

The wing’s support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) began in late 2003. The wing’s first major support of OIF occurred during the deployment of the Southern European Task Force (SETAF) in late March 2003. Aviano AB served as the launch point for the airborne/air-land insertion of airborne forces opening a second front in northern Iraq. As the primary supporter, the wing secured, bedded, and fed over 2,300 personnel from the Army and USAF. The operation, the largest airborne operation since 1989’s Operation JUST CAUSE in Panama, constituted 62 missions transporting 2,146 passengers and 2,433.7 tons of cargo.

Forces from the wing engaged in Iraqi operations in late 2003. From mid-November 2003 through early June 2004, the Scorpions deployed to Iraq to provide air control over Iraq. In an air control squadron first, the squadron relocated their entire operation from Baghdad International Airport to Balad AB. Under combat conditions, the squadron transferred $73 million in equipment and over 100 personnel via 20 convoys. Significantly, the squadron accomplished the move with no loss of command and control services. Unfortunately, the squadron also sustained a loss during its time in Iraq. On 10 April 2004, insurgents launched a mortar rocket attack on Balad, killing A1C Antoine Holt and injuring two other Scorpions. Airman Holt’s death constituted the 31 FW’s first combat fatality since the Vietnam War.

From December 2003 to early March 2004, the Buzzards deployed to Southwest Asia in support of OEF and OIF. Flying almost 900 sorties, including 750 combat sorties, the squadron flew close air support (CAS) and airborne forward air control (FAC-A) missions. Of note, squadron pilots were overhead during and participated in the capture of Saddam Hussein on 13 December 2003. Further, the 510th’s overhead presence contributed to a 50% reduction in improvised explosive device and infrastructure attacks against Coalition forces.

The Triple Nickel replaced the Buzzards in late February 2004 and returned to Aviano in early June. Like the Buzzards, the Nickel supported OEF and OIF. The squadron was active in OEF’s “MOUNTAIN STORM” in Afghanistan. In Iraq, the squadron performed the first true urban close air support (CAS) missions in recent history, a first in the F-16. Additionally, the 555th spearheaded development of CENTAF’s tactics, techniques, and procedures to support and defend convoys. Finally, the squadron pioneered the Air Force’s first operational F-16 employment of Advance Targeting Pods.


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.



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  • Rogers, Brian. United States Air Force Unit Designations Since 1978. Hinkley, England: Midland Publications, 2005. ISBN 1-85780-197-0.

Unit shields

External links


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