163rd Attack Wing stands up at March Field

U.S. Air National Guard photo/Senior Airman Michael Quiboloy

The California Air National Guard’s Moreno Valley-based 163rd Reconnaissance Wing has become the 163rd Attack Wing (ATKW). The wing received the official orders to re-designate its name on July 1, 2015, by the order of the Secretary of the Air Force. The name change was made formal during a ceremony at March Air Reserve Base, Saturday, July 11, 2015.

“Thank you for all your hard work and dedication to both the mission and the people of the 163rd Attack Wing,” said Col. Dana Hessheimer, wing commander. “I am proud to serve with each and every one of you.”

Members of the 163 ATKW took to the flight line and stood proudly in military formation next to their wingmen as the historical orders were announced. The unfurling of the new wing flag took place for all to see as a part of the momentous occasion. Hessheimer took a moment to share the history of the wing’s previous missions to remind the wing members of their heritage.

“Our wing members are part of the unit’s history,” said Hessheimer.  “They are experienced and dedicated to our United States Air Force mission.”

“Attack” is the term the active duty Air Force has adopted for its units that fly the MQ-9 Reaper. The 163rd converted aircraft, flying its first MQ-9 flight in August 2014. The wing converted from the remotely piloted MQ-1 Predator to the MQ-9 Reaper and the name change reflects the unit’s switch in operating the MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft. 

The 163rd is a proven choice supporting overseas, operating remotely piloted aircraft since August of 2006 when they converted from an Air Refueling Wing to the Reconnaissance Wing.  In only 19 months the wing reached 500,000 flying hours with 85 percent being combat hours, 31 CAPS and 4,400 weekly combat hours on mission with the MQ-1 Predator.

The wing was recently awarded two significant awards. First is the Winston P. Wilson trophy that is presented to the most outstanding Air National Guard Unit equipped with fighter or reconnaissance aircraft. From January 1 to December 31, 2014, the wing flew 658 sorties and more than 10,900 combat flying hours including 10 troops in contact and 17 air-to-surface engagements in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

The wing was also presented the Excellence in Aviation Award from the Flight Test Historical Foundation for supporting civil authorities in emergency disaster relief efforts during the third largest fire in California’s history, the Rim Fire. The wing provided more than 80 hours of real-time, full motion video in support of CAL FIRE operations.

The new163 ATKW started its legacy with its predecessor’s from the 411th Fighter Squadron, consisting of personnel from the 373rd Fighter Group. The 411 FS sailed from New York aboard the “HMS Duchess of Bedford” to Woodchurch, Kent, England, to prepare for combat missions during WWII. The 411th supported General Patton’s Third Army and played an integral part in the famous “Battle of the Bulge” by flying attack after attack, causing the Germans to retreat and eventually surrender in May 1945.

The unit launched its last flight of MQ-1 aircraft on April 1, 2015 after eight years, 230 days, nine hours and 30 minutes of consecutive flights without a break supporting our warfighters overseas. The wing flew 1,070 sorties totaling 6,240.5 hours in support of training. Along with the daily missions overseas, these Airmen supported civil authorities during fires and floods stateside, conducted search and rescue exercises and simultaneously supported their flying training unit school house.

“The added value of the enhanced RPA will expand the Air National Guard’s support in its search and rescue, firefighting, and other capabilities,” said Col. Dana Hessheimer, commander of the 163d Attack Wing. “The dedicated Airmen of the 163d Wing team are seizing the future and are remaining steadfast on duty.”