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Reserve Unit at McConnell Air Force Base Officially Designated a Wing

If you had asked Col. Mark Larson four years ago what he anticipated doing Saturday, he would have likely said he planned on retiring.

Those plans have changed quite a bit since 2012.

In a ceremony Saturday morning at McConnell Air Force Base, the 931st Air Refueling Wing was officially designated as a wing and Larson was appointed its commander.

"For me personally, it's something I never would have dreamed of," Larson said. "For the men and women of this unit who have performed so well over the years, this is an acknowledgment of how well they've done."

The 931st is the Air Force Reserve component at McConnell Air Force Base. Since 1995, when the unit was activated at McConnell, it had been known as the 931st Air Refueling Group.

In the Air Force, a "group" element is smaller than a "wing" element and has a different organizational structure.

Larson said that when he was assigned to command the 931st Air Refueling Group in 2012, his superiors in the 4th Air Force told him they wanted to convert the McConnell group into a wing.

"The problem is, with budgets and money, they don't just do that without a reason," Larson said.

That reason came in 2013, when McConnell was selected to be the first main operating base in the country to receive new KC-46A Pegasus tankers.

"With that comes the need for more reservists to fly it," Larson said. "Now we meet the numbers threshold to be designated a wing."

The 931st will add about 400 reservists to its Wichita force in the coming years — about two-thirds of those will be part-time positions and one-third will be full-time.

The 931st Air Refueling Group had about 670 airmen in it; the 931st Air Refueling Wing will have about 1,100.

"If I were sitting in the (Los Angeles) Basin with 4 million people, that'd be one thing, but being in the Wichita area ... we're going to be looking for people," Larson said. "There are great people in Kansas to recruit, so I'm looking forward to that."

Larson said his recruiters are working hard to try to find those people.

The part-time positions are "what you think of" when you think of reservists — coming for base duty one weekend a month, he said. The full-time jobs are mostly for pilots, though there are some positions for maintainers and support staff.

"We fly missions out of here every day," Larson said. "Active-duty and reserves usually fly around 17 missions a day — about a third of those are reservists.

"For the last 15 years, we have been in the fight every day."

In recent years, the Air Force has undergone a "total force" integration effort, which means it plans to lean more heavily on Reserve and Air National Guard components to complement its active-duty personnel.

Part of that initiative includes training everyone to fly common aircraft, according to the Air Force.

The Air Force is expected to have all 179 of its new KC-46A tankers by 2028. But because McConnell will be the first base to receive them, the 931st will play a large part in determining how best to use them, Larson said.

That "comes with lots of leadership opportunities," he said.

Saturday, Larson said, was a time for his personnel to re-evaluate themselves and prepare for the challenges — and opportunities — ahead.

"Sometimes we're going to be asked to stretch ourselves, especially in the beginning, more than we think we can," Larson said during the ceremony. "We'll be asked to do more than we can do with less people than we should have, and we'll be asked to do things that bigger-sized populations are doing.

"It'll stretch us, but it'll make us better."

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