The 56th Airlift Squadron had its beginning on November 8, 1942. It was on that day that the 56th Troop Carrier Squadron was activated at Bowman Field, Kentucky, training in the C-47; its mission was to transport troops and equipment to the Pacific Theater during World War II. During the war, the squadron moved to New Guinea, then to the Philippines, and ended up in Japan flying the C-46, where it was inactivated on March 25, 1946.
The squadron was reactivated on August 3, 1947 as a reserve unit flying the C-46 at Greater Pittsburgh Airport. At the onset of the Korean Conflict, the squadron was recalled to active duty and moved to South Carolina where they began flying the C-82. In 1952, it once again returned to reserve status at Pittsburgh where it operated the C-119 and C-124 until its inactivation in 1957.
On December 27, 1965, it was reactivated as the 56th Military Airlift Squadron and assigned to Tinker AFB, Oklahoma. Its mission was to train crews in the C-124. In January 1969, it was moved to Altus and in October became the first operational United States Air Force C-5 unit. Over the next 38 years, the squadron participated in many worldwide contingencies including action in Southeast Asia, the Arab Israeli Conflict (7-Day War) in 1973, Operation JUST CAUSE in 1989 (Panama), Operation DESERT SHIELD in 1990 (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), Operation PROVIDE COMFORT in 1991 and 1992 (Northern Iraq), Operation PROVIDE HOPE in 1992 (Somalia), Operation UPHOLD DEMOCRACY in 1994 (Haiti), Operation DENY FLIGHT in 1995 (Kuwait), Operation PROVIDE PROMISE in 1996 (Bosnia), Operation URGENT RESPONSE in 1996 (Liberia), Operation JOINT ENDEAVOUR (Bosnia), Operations PHOENIX SCORPION III and IV (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) in 1998, and Operations ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM in 2002 and 2003.
The 56th Military Airlift Squadron was redesignated as the 56th Airlift Squadron on August 27, 1991 following the United States Air Force reorganization at the end of the Cold War era. This change reflected the squadron’s involvement with all worldwide airlift missions including training. In May 1993, the 56th Airlift Squadron quadrupled its size by combining with its supporting flightline maintenance unit, becoming the largest and only Air Force C-5 unit with organic maintenance. In December 1996, the 56th officially turned over maintenance responsibilities to the 97th Logistic Group under the control of the Department of the Air Force civilian service maintenance personnel.
On 27 June 2007, the 56th Airlift Squadron inactivated as the C-5 training mission transitioned to the USAF Reserves at Kelly Field, Texas. The unit would only stay inactive for 9 years as it reactivated on 1 Aug 2016 as the 56th Air Refueling Squadron and prepared to become the first formal training unit for the USAF’s newest air refueling and cargo aircraft the KC-46 Pegasus. The reactivation of the unit at Altus AFB returned the unit to the home it had since 1969 and reunited it with the 58th Airlift Squadron, a unit it had served with during the island hopping campaigns in the South Pacific during World War II.
The 56th Air Refueling Squadron maintains a proud history and tradition of training highly qualified aircrew members while operating the Air Force’s largest aircraft in the inventory throughout it’s history. It is aligned under the United States Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command’s 19th Air Force, headquartered at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.
(current as of Oct. 2017)