Located in the Joint Force Headquarters in Phoenix, the Arizona Air National Guard is comprised of four major elements. The 161st Air Refueling Wing is located at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix and provides aerial refueling in support of global taskings. The Air staff provides overall direction, coordination, and support to all Air National Guard units in the State. The base is located on the southern end of the airport on a 50 acre parcel with a total of 16 buildings; 2 administrative, and 14 industrial, amounting to approximately 236,000 square feet.
The Air National Guard was created as a separate and distinct organization to fill the need to retain combat experienced pilots and aircraft maintenance personnel. The 412th Fighter Squadron, a unit that had earned extensive combat flying honors in Europe was redesigned as the 197th Fighter Squadron and on December 12, 1946 became the first unit of the Arizona Air National Guard.
Nicknamed the “Copperheads,” the 197th and their F-51 “Mustang Fighters” soon became a familiar sight in the sky over Arizona. On February 1, 1951, the Copperheads were ordered into active Air Force service. Some Arizona fighter pilots went to Korea to fly combat missions. The majority of the unit’s personnel, because of their experience, were sent to bases in the U.S. and Japan to train new people entering the Air Force.
The federal government authorized the construction of a new base at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix for the Arizona unit. The prop-driven Mustangs were replaced by the new combat-tested F-86A “Saberjet” fighter. In early 1960, the Air Force selected three Air Guard units across the country to equip with the supersonic Lockheed F-104A “Starfighter.” The Copperheads, as a result of the national recognition as one of the best air defense units in the nation, were chosen to fly the new high performance jet fighter.
The Air National Guard’s federal mission is to maintain well-trained, well-equipped units available for prompt mobilization during war and provide assistance during national emergencies (such as natural disasters or civil disturbances). During peacetime, the combat-ready units and support units are assigned to most Air Force major commands to carry out missions compatible with training, mobilization readiness, humanitarian and contingency operations such as Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Air National Guard units may be activated in a number of ways as prescribed by public law. Most of the laws may be found in Title 10 of the U.S. Code.
The Air National Guard provides almost half of the Air Force’s tactical airlift support, combat communications functions, aeromedical evacuations and aerial refueling. In addition, the Air National Guard has total responsibility for air defense of the entire United States.
When Air National Guard units are not mobilized or under federal control, they report to the governor of their respective state, territory (Puerto Rico, Guam, Virgin Islands) or the commanding general of the District of Columbia National Guard. Each of the 54 National Guard organizations is supervised by the adjutant general of the state or territory. Under state law, the Air National Guard provides protection of life, property and preserves peace, order and public safety. These missions are accomplished through emergency relief support during natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and forest fires; search and rescue operations; support to civil defense authorities; maintenance of vital public services and counterdrug operations.
There are 287 full-time personnel and 879 personnel during the once a month unit training assemblies.
The base has no residential or transient housing facilities.
The Mission Support Group
161st Air Refueling Wing
Arizona Air National Guard
3200 East Old Tower Road
Phoenix, Arizona 85034