A KC-135 Christmas tale

  • Published
  • By Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot
  • 185th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Decorating the KC-135 static display tail at the 185th Air Refueling Wing has been part of the Iowa Air National Guard unit’s Christmas tradition since the display was first tilted up in in 2007.

The KC-135 tail is dressed for Christmas each year with lights that wrap around the outside of the entire structure, greeting all who enter the unit’s front gate during the holidays.

KC-135 crew chief Master Sgt. Michael Vanderwilt has become the 185th’s chief Christmas tail decorator. He said he’s been driving the JLG lift to the front gate each November since 2012 to ensure the lights are hung with care.

“After Thanksgiving we set it up so we can have it ready by December drill,” Vanderwilt said. 

Vanderwilt said the lights are set to turn on each night through December until Christmas Day. 

The KC-135 tail is the first thing people see as they come on base, anchored near the main entrance. The addition of lights during the holidays helps bring even more attention to the very large display.

Like singing loud for all to hear, the addition of lights to the KC-135 tail each December also helps spread Christmas cheer during long Iowa December nights.

The display is the most recent addition to the small air park in Sioux City, Iowa that was added after the unit converted to flying KC-135 aircraft in the early- 2000s.

At the time of its creation, the static display construction was done in-house by a group of 185th unit members led by retired Chief Master Sgt. Ron Bennett. 

When it was constructed, installing the 25-foot-high monolith was no small task that required both muscle and machine. In jest the word “Ronument” was added to the base of the display in homage to the construction team’s leader.

Over the course of several weeks during its construction, unit members prepared a huge concrete stand for the display. Metal hinges were built into the top of the platform where the tail was eventually tilted up and pinned in place in early November 2007. 

Since it's construction the tail has been serving as a proud visual representation of the unit’s current refueling mission. Each November the monument has also been serving as a giant 185th ARW 3D Christmas card for  all who pass by the Iowa Air Guard facility. 

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