An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

185th ARW Delivers Fuel for Siouxland's Economy

  • Published
  • 185ARW
It is difficult, if not impossible, to assess the single greatest contribution made to this community and our country by Sioux City's 185th Iowa Air National Guard (ANG) unit. Over the course of their illustrious six decades of military service, in addition to the significant impact they have had defending freedom around the world, the 185th has had a similarly substantial impact right here at home.

Some believe the unit's brightest hour was their stellar performance as a fighter squadron in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968. During their exceptional tour of duty, the 185th earned the nickname the 'Bats,' as well as the envy of numerous active duty Air Force fighter squadrons for their superior performance for flying dangerous combat missions in the dark of night. In fact, still today, the pilots of the 185th use the call sign 'Bats.'

Some twenty years later, many Siouxlanders soberly recall the unit's heroic response in the immediate aftermath of the United Flight 232 tragedy. Under enormous pressure and with the global media transfixed on their efforts, the men and women of the 185th transcended the chaos of one of the worst plane crashes in U.S. history to deliver among the most distinguished and studied rescue, recovery, and disaster relief operations ever performed.

Still others point out that shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9-11, it was once again the dedicated Airmen of Sioux City's ANG unit that rose to the occasion scrambling F-16 Fighting Falcons to provide both air cover and escort to Air Force One and the President of the United States as he traveled from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana to Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha. The President was eventually shepherded by two of the Bats to Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Washington, D.C. so that he could address the nation from the Oval Office later that very same evening. Since September 11, 2001, the 185th has continued to be actively, although sometimes quietly, engaged in the war on terror. The unit has cut orders to send over 800 of their courageous Airmen on dangerous overseas deployments to hostile battlefields in countries including both Iraq and Afghanistan.

During this demanding post 9-11 era, the unit has also remained directly involved in domestic efforts recognized as critically important to our nation. For example, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, high ranking military officials reported that the 185th flew more Katrina sorties, evacuees, passengers and cargo tonnage than any other tanker unit in the nation. Moreover, members of the Sioux City-based ANG unit provided unparalleled humanitarian assistance and relief to include medical, engineering, and security support, as well as critical organizational and operational leadership in the hours, days, weeks, and months after one of the worst natural disasters in our nation's history.

Determining the unit's most significant service-related contribution remains debatable, however, the annual economic impact the 185th Air Refueling Wing (ARW) continues to have on Siouxland is indisputable. In the unit's recently published 'Economic Impact Statement' for 2007, the 185th reported that it employs nearly 1,000 full and part-time members and pays nearly $40 million in annual payroll. Furthermore, the economic impact of the indirect jobs created is estimated at just shy of $10 million dollars and non-payroll annual expenditures exceed $15 million. All told, Siouxland's Air National Guard unit contributes approximately $65 million to the Siouxland economy on an annual basis.

To put this $65 million figure into perspective and in terms many of us will more easily appreciate, consider that the combined cost of renovating the beautiful Orpheum Theatre ($11 million) and the construction of the Tyson Events Center ($53 million) represent almost exactly what our hometown Air National Guard Squadron contributes to the Siouxland economy each and every year.

Additionally, the 185th remains one of the largest employers in the tri-state region, with members from Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Not only is it one of the largest organizations, but it is also one of the better paying employers in the area, with outstanding benefits including over $3 million in annual educational assistance through programs like the GI Bill and the State of Iowa Tuition Assistance Program. The key to developing any economy is both job creation and capital investment and the 185th has contributed more than a healthy dose of each into the Siouxland economy. While the "Value of Assets" total reported in this annual summary does not reflect annual investment, it does represent an overall figure comprised of the present collective value of aircraft, buildings, equipment, and inventories. Totaling $622,760,000 this amount exceeds the $600 million projected cost of Google's massive new data center in Council Bluffs.

According to Col. Brian Miller, Commander of the 185th ARW, the recent conversion from the F-16 fighter to the KC-135 refueling tanker may have assured the unit's long term sustainability in Siouxland. With the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) recently targeting active duty and Air Guard bases alike, it appears that no military installation is exempt from a future closure by the federal government. Said Col. Miller, "The conversion to KC-135 refueling tankers may have saved us. With the tanker mission, we are unquestionably more secure than we would have been in fighters."

Of course, the entire tri-state region should welcome another sixty years of distinguished service from the 185th. Whether it be defending freedom or saving lives, the impact the 185th has had on our community and this country has been profound and should be a tremendous source of pride for all of Siouxland.