Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, a part of the United States Air Force's Air Combat Command, is located in Tucson, Arizona. The base is home to the 355th Fighter Wing, responsible for training and deploying A-10C Thunderbolt II pilots. D-M's aircraft inventory includes 84 A-10Cs, 15 EC-130H Compass Calls, 7 HC-130J Combat Kings, 15 HH-60G Pavehawks, a contingent of F-16 Fighting Falcons and 4,000 assorted aircraft in the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group.
The 355th's mission is threefold: First, deploy, employ, support and sustain attack airpower and Airmen in support of Combatant Commanders anywhere in the world. Second, train the finest attack pilots for the Combat Air Forces. Third, provide every member of the Desert Lightning Team with responsive, tailored and mission-focused base support.
On November 12 1942, the 355th Fighter Group, the wing's forbear was activated at Orlando Army Air Base, Florida, flying P-40 Warhawks. However, instead of going to war in the P-40s they had been training with, they were scheduled to operate the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. Pilots and crews carried out training with the new aircraft during the group's move up the East Coast, which commenced on February 17, and ended on June 16 1943, when the group departed for England.
On D-Day, 6 June 1944, pilots from the 355th FG and the 4th FG, conducted missions around Paris, a key staging and routing area for German forces in France. These were the only two 8th AF FGs not tasked to fly over the beachheads. The 8th AF commander selected these units specifically for their experience in both air-to-air and air-to-ground operations. On September 18 1944, the 355th FG participated in the last shuttle escort mission of the war, when they escorted bombers on a three-day deep strike mission from England to Russia, Russia to Italy, and Italy to England. These missions allowed for uninterrupted escort when striking targets beyond fighter escort range. Despite the overwhelming challenges the 355th faced, their efforts ensured the success of many bombing missions throughout the campaign.
The 355th flew its last mission in World War II on April 25 1945. During this time, 56 pilots obtained ace status for destroying five or more aircraft; 22 of these were air aces, the remainder had a sufficient number of ground kills to achieve ace status. The 355th's two highest scoring individuals in air-to-air and air-to-ground were Henry W. Brown with 32, 17.5 aerial, 14.5 ground and William J. Cullerton with 27, 6 aerial and 21 ground kills. Both pilots were shot down on air-to-ground missions and taken prisoner. In all, 355th FG pilots were credited with 365.5 aerial kills and 502.5 ground kills, for a total of 868 aircraft destroyed, the third highest overall and the top in air-to-ground kills within 8th AF. However, this came at a high price; 175 aircraft were lost in action, even more lost during training missions and the accompanying tragic loss of life. Some members of the group went on to fight other wars, such as James Jabara, who became the first jet ace in Korea, and second highest scorer in that conflict. The efforts and feats accomplished by these men are indelibly etched in our Air Force heritage.
9 years passed following the 355th Fighter Group inactivation in 1946, before the unit reactivated due to increased tensions between the Soviet Union and the US during the Cold War. On August 18 1955, the unit reactivated as the 355th FG, Air Defense at McGhee-Tyson Airport, Tennessee, under Aerospace Defense Command, The new mission included defending strategic targets from attack by Russian intercontinental bombers. The 355th flew the F-86L Sabre, a radar equipped version of the aircraft made famous in the Korean War, to defend the Oak Ridge Atomic Energy Plant and ALCOA aluminum production site. While they never fired a shot, pilots of the group stood constant alert and made numerous practice launches against simulated enemy bombers and fighters during their three-year vigil. On January 8 1958, the unit inactivated.
On April 13 1962, the group reactivated at George Air Force Base, California, and became the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing. Crews commenced operations with the Republic F-105 Thunder chief and after reaching proficiency in the aircraft, their mission expanded to include training new crews. Two years later, the 355th moved to McConnell AFB, Kansas, where they supported the conflict in Vietnam by temporarily deploying squadrons on combat rotations. With an increase in the bombing campaign against North Vietnam, AF leaders made the decision to relocate the wing to Takhli Royal Thai AFB, Thailand, on November 8 1965. Following five years of uninterrupted combat over Vietnam, the wing deactivated in December 1970.
On July 1 1971 the AF reactivated the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing at Davis-Monthan with the Vought A-7D Corsair II as the primary weapon system. In early 1975 the 355th TFW prepared for conversion to the nameless Fairchild Republic A-10. It would be nearly three years before the name Thunderbolt II was officially selected for the A-10. In October 1975 the 355th Tactical Training Squadron activated to conduct A-10 academic training. Five months later, on March 2 1976, the wing received the first A-10. D-M was officially transferred from the Strategic Air Command to Tactical Air Command on September 30 1976. It was also on this day that the 355 TFW became D-M's host wing. Before the close of the decade, two additional changes would occur. On September 1 1979, the 355 TFW was redesignated the 355th Tactical Training Wing, and on October 2, the last A-7D mission was flown, thereby ending an eight year presence at D-M.
In the 1990s, the 355 TTW continued to train A-10 crews for assignments to units in the United States, United Kingdom and Korea. During this period, the A-10 saw combat for the first time during the Gulf War in 1991, destroying more than 1,000 Iraqi tanks, 2,000 military vehicles and 1,200 artillery pieces. Additionally, A-10s shot down two Iraqi helicopters with the GAU-8 Avenger Gatling gun. During the war, seven A-10s were shot down, far fewer than military planners expected. During this time, A-10s had a mission capable rate of 95.7%, flew 8,100 sorties, and launched 90% of the AGM-65 Maverick missiles fired in the conflict.
The Wing's next contingency, Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, began on August 27, 1992, in an effort to enforce restrictions placed on Iraq following Operation DESERT STORM. The 355th supported this operation with five deployments to Southwest Asia in 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2001. All deployments were to enforce the 33rd parallel southern no-fly zone. In 1999, in addition to the regular Operation SOUTHERN WATCH A-10 rotations, the wing provided Compass Call assets to Operation ALLIED FORCE, the NATO air campaign over Serbia and Kosovo. The next change for the installation occurred on May 1 1992, when the AF policy of one base-one boss was implemented. This resulted in all Air Divisions, including the 836 AD, beginning inactivated. With this action, the 355 FW was once again D-M's host wing. Also on this day, the 41st and 43rd Electronic Control Squadrons and the EC-130E Compass Call aircraft were assigned to the 355th FW. These actions resulted in the 355th FW becoming the 355th Wing.
Since the attacks of 9/11 the 355th FW has completed nine deployments in support of multiple contingency campaigns around the world. While a majority of the deployments supported combat operations in Central Command’s Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, and Operation INHERENT RESOLVE, European Command and Pacific Command were also supported on separate deployments with Theater Security Packages (TSP) comprised of 355th units. These vital TSP operations prevented the spread of aggressive forces into Eastern Europe and the Republic of Korea. In support of OIR, the 355th’s latest deployment, new combat records were set for number of sorties flown, combat hours completed and ordnance expended.
In the midst of all the deployments, changes still occurred within the 355th. In September 2002, control of the 48th, 55th, and the 79th Rescue Squadrons were transferred to the 355th Wing at the same time, the 41st and 43rd ECS were realigned under the 55th Electronic Combat Group. While personnel and aircraft remained on D-M AFB, operational control of the 55 ECG was assumed by the 55th Wing at Offutt AFB, Nebraska. Additionally, one other major wing realignment occurred on October 1 2003, with the activation of the 563rd Rescue Group on D-M AFB. Control of the 48th, 55th, and 79th RQS transferred from the 355th Wing to the newly activated group. The 23rd Wing at Moody AFB, Georgia assumed operational control of the 563 RQG. Finally, with only fighter aircraft assigned, the 355 WG was redesignated as the 355th Fighter Wing on April 26 2007.
Other units currently assigned to D-M AFB are 12th Air Force, 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, 55th Electronic Combat Group, 563rd RQG and the 162nd Arizona Air National Guard Alert Detachment. Other federal agencies using the base include the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) Air Service Branch. Approximately 6,500 Active Duty military personnel, 1,000 Reserve and Air National Guard personnel, and 3,000 civilian employees work at D-M, and nearly 19,000 military retirees reside in the Tucson area. In 2012 D-M AFB received the Commander-in-Chiefs' Installation Excellence Award and was recognized as the best installation in the U. S. Air Force.