The 171st Air Refueling Wing received its 11th Outstanding Unit Award from the Air Force for meritous service between 2019 and 2020. (Photo by Evan Dougherty)

PIT-Based Unit Earns Prestigious Air Force Award

The Pennsylvania Air National Guard’s 171st Air Refueling Wing earned recognition in February from the U.S. Air Force for displaying outstanding service from 2019-2020.

It is the 11th time the 171st, which flies the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker out of Pittsburgh International Airport, has earned the award.

According to the Air Force Personnel Center, the Outstanding Unit Award is given to any unit that distinguishes itself through meritorious service or outstanding achievements, which can include actions of national or international significance and combat operations involving conflict or hostile fire.

“We are proud to receive the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award,” said Col. Raymond L. Hyland Jr., commander of the 171st Air Refueling Wing. “This is the 11th time in our units history that the capabilities, dedication and sacrifice of the men and women of the 171st Air Refueling Wing have been recognized with this award. Our Airmen are always among the first to volunteer and they continuously perform at the highest levels in the Air National Guard. “

In 2019 and 2020, the 171st participated in many exercises and combat missions. The unit provided support to NATO and both the U.S. Central Command and Indo-Pacific Command. The 171st supported combat operations during Operations Noble Eagle, Inherent Resolve and Freedom’s Sentinel.

In that period, the 171st flew nearly 5,500 combat missions worldwide and offloaded more than 21 million pounds of fuel to U.S. and allied aircraft.

Additionally, the 171st was recognized for its operational flight safety culture and leadership. The unit maintained its 62-year record of not sustaining a Class A mishap, defined as incidents when an aircraft is substantially damaged or destroyed, or when a crew member is killed or disabled.

Thanks to its elite safety record, the 171st was named the best Air National Guard Safety Office and earned the Non-Commissioned Officer and Safety Officer of the year awards in 2020.

The Outstanding Unit Award award was created by the Air Force in 1954 as the branch’s first independent decoration. Until 2004, it was the senior-most award in the Air Force. A ribbon is given to any service member that was a part of the unit during the period it was recognized for outstanding service.

The KC-135, the Air Force’s primary jet tanker used to conduct aerial refueling, has been flown by the 171st since 1977. Currently, the wing flies 16 of the latest T-model KC-135 which incorporates upgrades such as newer engines, avionics and electrical systems.

The 171st Air Refueling Wing currently flies 16 Boeing KC-135T Stratotankers out of PIT for the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. (Photo by Evan Dougherty)

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