Published May 07, 2009
There are several dates surrounding the history of MacDill AFB. Official records report an establishment date of 24 May 1939, date construction began 6 September 1939, date of beneficial occupancy 11 March 1940, and formal dedication 16 April 1941. This last date which is normally associated with the age of the base.
Originally known as Southeast Air Base, Tampa, and later named MacDill Field in honor of Colonel Leslie MacDill, the field became MacDill Air Force Base shortly after the establishment of the United States Air Force in 1947.
Flying operations at MacDill began in 1941 with the base's first mission including transitional training in the B-17 Flying Fortress. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, MacDill became a major staging area for Army Air Corps flight crews and aircraft. In just 60 days, 15 LB-30 and 63 B-17 aircraft departed MacDill via the south Atlantic and Africa to Australia.
The base's mission converted to B-26 "Marauder" training in 1942 and it was the B-26 that earned the slogan "one a day in Tampa Bay." The aircraft proved hard to fly and land by many pilots due to its short wings, high landing speeds, and fighter plane maneuverability. Nine of the 12 combat groups that flew the B-26 in Europe were activated and trained at MacDill and in combat the B-26 enjoyed the lowest loss rate of any Allied bomber.
In 1943 the base discontinued B-26 training and returned to B-17 training, which continued through the end of World War II. During the war, as many as 15,000 troops were stationed at MacDill at the same time. A contingent of Women's Army Corps (WACS) troops arrived in 1943. Estimates of the number of crewmembers trained at the base vary from 50,000 to 120,000. Several bases in Florida, including MacDill, served as detention centers for German prisoners-of-war (POWs) in the latter part of 1944 and 1945. At its apex, 488 POWs were interned at MacDill.
Following the end of hostilities in Europe, MacDill transitioned to a B-29 training base in January 1945, and after the war, continued B-29 training through 1953.
After World War II, MacDill became an operational base for Strategic Air Command with training activities focused around P-51, B-29, and in 1950, B-50 training. This aircraft is of the same type residing in MacDill's memorial park today.
In 1951, MacDill's operational mission transitioned to new B-47 medium jet bombers and KC-97 tanker aircraft, with a primary mission as a strategic bombardment and air refueling base. Plans to close MacDill surfaced in 1960, however the Cuban Missile Crisis highlighted the strategic location of the base and led to a reprieve of the planned cutbacks. In 1961 the United States Strike Command was established at MacDill as a unified command with integrated personnel from all branches of the military capable of responding to global crisis.
The base began training crews in F-84 aircraft in 1962, and MacDill became a Tactical Air Command base in 1963. In 1965, MacDill's two combat-ready F-4 wings, the 12th and 15th Tactical Fighter Wings, deployed to Vietnam. The 12th's deployment became permanent while the 15 TFW returned to MacDill and became a replacement-training unit with F-4 and B-57 aircraft.
In 1970, the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing moved to MacDill replacing the 15 TFW and continued F-4 training, losing the B-57 mission in 1972. MacDill's U.S. Strike Command was redesignated U.S. Readiness Command in 1972. In 1975, the 56 TFW replaced the 1 TFW and continued F-4 training until 1979 when F-16 aircraft were brought to the base. The Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, forerunner of U.S. Central Command, activated at MacDill in 1983.
In 1987, U.S. Special Operations Command replaced U.S. Readiness Command. Helicopter operations ended at MacDill in 1987 after more than 25 years of service.
Between 1979 and 1993 approximately half of all F-16 pilots were trained at MacDill. During Operation's Desert Shield and Desert Storm, accelerated training programs expanded to allow many pilots to go straight from initial training to combat units in the gulf.
In 1991, due to military downsizing, the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (DBCRC) required MacDill to cease all flying operations by 1993. The action effectively transferred MacDill's 100-plus F-16 mission to Luke AFB, Arizona.
Legislation in 1993 reversed the flightline closure ruling and allowed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to transfer to MacDill to utilize the runway.
In 1994, MacDill became home to the 6th Air Base Wing. This new wing had a primary mission of operating the base in support of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), and a large number of tenant and transient units. However, this mission would grow in the coming years due, in part, to events later that year in the Caribbean.
In September 1994, tensions arose between the United States and Haiti after the overthrow and expulsion of Haiti's duly elected government by a military coup. MacDill quickly became a major staging area for operations to restore President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his government. The flightline became a temporary home to approximately seventy-five C-130 aircraft participating in Operation Restore Democracy, the airborne invasion spearheaded by elements of SOCOM and the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division. After Aristide was restored, the successful operations put MacDill's strategic location and flightline capabilities in a new light.
With operations in Haiti highlighting MacDill's significance in the region, the 1995 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission recommended to retain the airfield under Air Force control. Eventually, this led to the wing's new mission in refueling. The Air Force directed the 43rd Air Refueling Group, then stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, to transfer its refueling mission to MacDill beginning in October 1996. The same year, the wing became the 6th Air Refueling Wing. The re-designation brought the addition of the twelve KC-135Rs from Malmstrom, which now operated as part of MacDill's new unit, the 91st Air Refueling Squadron. This refueling mission marked the beginning of a new era for the base.
The 6th's mission expanded again in 1997. The wing assumed support responsibility for EC-135 command post aircraft supporting the CENTCOM and SOCOM commanders at MacDill and a CT-43 aircraft supporting the SOUTHCOM commander in Miami. Both non-tanker aircraft types were later replaced by the C-37. Along with this new mission came a new name. On January 1, 2001 the wing was re-designated as the 6th Air Mobility Wing, after the standup of the 310th Airlift Squadron. The 310th flew support missions for the combatant commanders. The squadron used the C-37A, a military version of the Gulstream V; the first was delivered to MacDill on July 25, 2001. Revitalized flying operations at MacDill enhanced the posture of military air refueling and airlift operations in the southeastern part of the United States.
Since the last re-designation in 2001, MacDill and the 6th Air Mobility Wing have contributed to military operations such as Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. They also have flown missions around the world, including Istres, France; Ramstein Air Base, Germany; Soto Cano and Taszar, Hungary; Zagreb, Croatia; Tuzla, Bosnia; Incirlik Air Base, Turkey; and Al Kharj and Riyadh, Saudia Arabia; Moron Spain; Aviano Italy and Mildenhall, United Kingdom. In addition, the 6th has twice won top honors at Air Mobility Command's premier international competition, the Air Mobility Rodeo. In 2000 and 2005, the 6th won the "Best Air Mobility Wing" Award.
In 2008, the base and the wing experienced more changes as part of a major restructuring by the Air Force. This time, MacDill and the 6th welcomed the Air Force Reserve's 927th Air Refueling Wing, which works jointly with the 6th and uses the same KC-135 aircraft. The following year, 2009, the wing underwent more changes as part of the Air Force's restructuring process. However, the change was not readily apparent. The 6th added the first "active associate" tanker squadron, the 911th Air Refueling Squadron. Although stationed at Air Combat Command's Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, the 911th was now assigned operationally to the 6th Air Mobility Wing.
On October 1, 2019, the 6th Air Mobility Wing deactivated the 310th Airlift Squadron, and removed three C-37A's from its inventory. The wing was redesignated as the 6th Air Refueling Wing.
Today, the 6th Air Refueling Wing (ARW) generates and executes air refueling, and contingency response capabilities while providing base support for joint, coalition and interagency partners including USCENTCOM and USSOCOM. The 6 ARW executes this mission with 24 KC-135R's, and 3,000 professional Airmen.