384th ARS deactivates, makes room for KC-46

The 384th Air Refueling Squadron will deactivate temporarily after Sept. 30, 2016 after establishing McConnell Air Force Base's aerial refueling mission. The 384th ARS will deactivate to make room as McConnell will receives the newest iteration of aerial refueling aircraft, the KC-46 Pegasus. (U.S. Air Force graphic/Senior Airman Christopher Thornbury)

The 384th Air Refueling Squadron will deactivate after Sept. 30, 2016 after establishing McConnell Air Force Base's aerial refueling mission. The 384th ARS will deactivate to make room as McConnell will receives the newest iteration of aerial refueling aircraft, the KC-46 Pegasus. (U.S. Air Force graphic/Senior Airman Christopher Thornbury)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- Forty-three years ago, the 384th Air Refueling Wing landed here eager to build a reputation as the Air Force’s premier air refueling base.

With their success, McConnell added three more air refueling squadrons and made the 384th ARW a squadron, all four squadrons assigned to the new 22nd Air Refueling Wing. As the established premier air refueling base, McConnell will receive the newest iteration of the aerial refueling aircraft on its way, the KC-46 Pegasus.

The 384th is easily distinguishable with a patch velcroed to their shoulders, a blue and yellow trapezoid opposed a single-colored, circular patch, while it isn’t an actual square they have been sanctioned as ‘Squarepatchers.’ Within the trapezoid is an eagle holding onto the boom of a KC-135 Stratotanker while soaring above the globe, symbolizing their mission of refueling aircraft to provide global reach.

The Squarepatchers have upgraded their wings in the past, trading in their KC-97 Stratotankers for the KC-135; but this time they will stick to their roots and continue the KC-135’s heritage for years to come - only this time from a different base.

Sept. 30 will be the last official day the 384th ARS call McConnell home. Congress is currently reviewing options for choosing the squadrons next location under the National Defense Authorization Act, a federal law specifying the budget and expenditures of the Department of Defense.

HERITAGE, COMRADARIE, SQUADRON PRIDE
“I love the esprit de corps,” said Lt. Col. Eric Hallberg, 384th ARS commander. “I have not been to a unit where the lineage of squadron pride goes so far back, were people proudly say, ‘I am a Squarepatcher.’ I get emails all the time from Squarepatchers from all over the world.”

Squarepatchers take pride in their heritage. Reunions are held every other year for current and retired Squarepatchers to celebrate their squadron’s history. Even after leaving the 384th ARS many still identify as Squarepatchers, hence a popular saying, “once a Squarepatcher, always a Squarepatcher.”

When Hallberg took command of the squadron he placed the Squarepatcher insignia on his flight-suit for the first time; however, he has thoroughly enjoyed his time with the Squarepatchers and is honored to be a part of the squadron lineage.

“I took the squadron in as my own family,” said Hallberg. “My wife and I relish our time up front of the organization, it has been a gift to serve the squadron, to do our best and make it better. I enjoyed watching them grow as aviators, go into combat and do great things for their country.”

The 384th ARS is the longest-serving air refueling squadron on base. For 20 years, they were the only air refueling unit at McConnell. Now, their bags are packed and headed for a destination unknown.

Their destination may not be announced, but one thing is certain.

“The 384th will continue rising,” said Hallberg. “At their next base, they will show up with the same heritage, same lineage and continue our path.”