|31st Operations Group
|Active||1940–1952; 1991–1994; 1994–present|
|Branch||United States Air Force|
|Part of||United States Air Forces Europe|
|Motto(s)||Return With Honor|
|Engagements||European Theater of Operations|
|Decorations||Distinguished Unit Citation|
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award
|31st Operations Group emblem[note 2]|
|Patch with 31st Fighter Group emblem as first approved on 28 June 1941|
The 31st Operations Group ensures the combat readiness of two F-16CG Falcon squadrons, one air control squadron, and one operational support squadron conducting and supporting worldwide air operations. The group prepares fighter pilots, controllers, and support personnel to execute U.S. and NATO war plans and contingency operations.
It trains, equips, plans, and provides weather, intelligence, standardization/evaluation, and command and control sustaining global flying operations.
The 31st Operations Group was reactivated in late October 1991 at Homestead Air Force Base, Florida. The 31st Tactical Fighter Wing received new equipment the previous March in the form of Block 40 F-16C/D Fighting Falcons and in October of that year the wing resumed its original title (one month short of 44 years since the unit had formed) of 31st Fighter Wing, with the 31 OG as its flying component.
On 24 August 1992 the effects of Hurricane Andrew severely damaged Homestead. The group's three F-16 squadrons were relocated to Moody Air Force Base, Georgia (and eventually reassigned to other units) and the base declared non-operational because of the damage caused by the hurricane. The result of this was the reassignment of the 31st from Air Combat Command Ninth Air Force to United States Air Forces Europe's Sixteenth Air Force on 31 March 1994 without personnel or equipment. The 31st replaced the 401st Tactical Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base, Italy, and the wing received two new fighter Squadrons, the 510th "Buzzards" and 555th Fighter Squadrons "Triple Nickel". These squadrons were initially unequipped, but the 512th and 526th Fighter Squadrons, of the 86th Fighter Wing at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, which were equipped with F-16CG/DG Block-40s were inactivated as the 86th Wing became an airlift organization. These squadrons transferred their equipment and personnel to the new squadrons at Aviano.
Both use the tail code "AV" for AViano. Each F-16 has a tail markings in the squadron colors – Green with the words "Triple Nickel" in white for the 555th FS and Purple with the words "Buzzards" in white for the 510th FS.
The Block 40s (as well as the Block 42 F-16's) are equipped with the Martin–Marietta Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infra-Red for Night (LANTIRN) system. This consists of two pods, a AAQ-13 navigation pod carried on the left-hand chin pylon and an AAQ-14 targeting pod on the right-hand chin pylon. To differentiate this version the USAF has applied the designation F-16CG/DG.
Non-flying squadrons of the 31st OG are:
The group's origins begin just before World War II, when the 31st Pursuit Group (Interceptor) on 22 December 1939 and was activated on 1 February 1940 with the 39th, 40th and 41st Pursuit squadrons. The group fought in North Africa and Italy during the war, returning to Drew Field Florida in August 1945 where it was Inactivated.
A SAC Fighter-Escort group during the early years of the Cold War, the group was inactivated again in 1952. It was reactivated as the 31st Operations Group in 1991.
The 31st Pursuit Group (Interceptor) was constituted on 22 December 1939 and activated on 1 February 1940, at Selfridge Field, Michigan, with the 39th, 40th and 41st Pursuit squadrons. Its first commander was Lt. Col. Harold H. George, previously commander of the 94th Pursuit Squadron, also at Selfridge. The group trained and participated in Army maneuvers. The unit was redesignated the 31st Fighter Group on 15 May 1942 and was deployed to the European Theater. Most of the group moved to RAF Atcham England where it was assigned to Eighth Air Force. The stationing of the group personnel and aircraft was very haphazard, being assigned to various RAF stations in Kent and the East Midlands throughout its tenure in England.
The group consisted of the following squadrons and fuselage codes:
The group arrived in the UK without its assigned aircraft as the Bell P-39 Airacobras they trained with in the United States were found unsuitable for long-distance formation ferry flights. The ground echelon sailed on the RMS Queen Elizabeth on 4 June 1942 arriving Clyde 10 June 1942. Pilots followed later that month. In England, the group was provided with British Supermarine Spitfire Vbs by the Royal Air Force.
The 31st Fighter Group was the first group to commence operations with VIII Fighter Command.
It flew its first sorties with the RAF on 26 July, and its first squadron operation on 5 August. The 31st's first combat operation was on 19 August 1942, when it supported the Allied raid at Dieppe, France.
In August 1942, the 31st moved to RAF Westhampnett in Sussex until October before moving into Tafaraoui Airfield, Algeria on 8 November 1942 as part of Twelfth Air Force to take part in Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa.
Once in North Africa, the group attacked motor transports, gun positions, and troop concentrations during the campaign for Algeria and French Morocco. It supported ground troops in Tunisia and provided cover for bomber and fighter aircraft. During May and June 1943, after being re-equipped with Mk VIII and Mk IX Spitfires, it escorted naval convoys in the Mediterranean and bombers on raids to Pantelleria. It supported landings on Sicily in July, at Salerno in September, and at Anzio in January 1944. The group provided close air support of Allied ground forces in Italy and flew patrol and escort missions.
In April 1944, after being assigned to Fifteenth Air Force, the group was equipped with P-51B, C and D Mustangs and engaged primarily in missions to escort heavy bombers to enemy targets in Italy, France, Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Greece. The 31st earned a Distinguished Unit Citation for a 21 April 1944 mission to cover a raid on production centers in Romania. It escorted reconnaissance and cargo aircraft participating in the airborne invasion of southern France. The unit strafed airdromes and communications targets. As part of a Fifteenth Air Force task force, it attacked targets in Romania while flying to Russia on 22 July 1944. After escorting Lockheed P-38 Lightning aircraft from a Russian base for a raid on an airdrome in Poland on 25 July, it attacked a German fighter-bomber force and a truck convoy, earning a second Distinguished Unit Citation. In April 1945, when Allied forces pursued their final offensive in northern Italy, the group strafed enemy rail and highway traffic.
The 31st Fighter Group returned to Drew Field Florida in August 1945, where it was inactivated on 7 November.
The 31st Fighter Group was reactivated at AAF Station Giebelstadt, Germany on 20 August 1946 where it was assigned to the United States Air Forces in Europe XII Tactical Air Command for duty with the occupation force, assuming the mission, aircraft and personnel of the 55th Fighter Group, which was simultaneously inactivated. The group flew the former 55th's North American P-51D Mustangs from the airfield, as well as early-model Lockheed P-80B Shooting Star jet aircraft which had been deployed to the 55th. The unit moved to AAF Station Kitzingen on 30 September where it continued to operate both P-51Ds and P-80Bs.
After a year, the group's personnel and equipment were stood down, and the group was transferred without personnel or equipment, to Turner Field, Georgia on 20 November 1947. At Turner the 31st Fighter Group became the operational component of the newly established United States Air Force 31st Fighter Wing on 20 November under Tactical Air Command, and was equipped with surplus P-51D Mustangs. The group consisted of the 307th, 308th and 309th Fighter Squadrons.
At Turner, the 31st FG trained to achieve tactical proficiency from 1947–1950. In the summer of 1948, the 31st Fighter Group became the second Tactical Air Command unit to receive the Republic P-84C Thunderjet. The designation was changed to F-84C on 11 June 1948.
Effective 20 June 1950, Turner was transferred to Strategic Air Command and effective 1 July 1950 control of the 31st Fighter Group was turned over to SAC and the group was redesignated as the 31st Fighter Escort Group. Upon the transfer to SAC, the group was assigned to SAC's Second Air Force on 16 July with a mission to escort SAC's intercontinental Boeing B-29 and Boeing B-50 Superfortress bomber fleet.
Along with the reassignment to SAC, the 31st was upgraded to the new F-84E model, which was designed for bomber escort duties. As the F-84E model was still a brand-new aircraft, the 31st FEW was charged with performing accelerated service test on them. For these evaluations, the group utilized the air-to-ground gunnery range at Fort Stewart, Georgia and an air-to-air range over the Atlantic Ocean between Savannah, Georgia and Brunswick, Georgia. In addition, bomber escort missions were flown with B-29s from the 2d Bombardment Group at Hunter Air Force Base near Savannah.
Beginning in December 1950 through July 1951, all tactical and most support components deployed to RAF Manston, England. The remaining components of the 31st at Turner were backfilled by the Federalized New Jersey Air National Guard 108th Fighter-Bomber Wing with 141st, 149th and 153d Fighter-Bomber Squadrons.
Between 1 June 1951 and 15 June 1942, the 31st Fighter-Escort Group was reduced to a "paper" status when the operational squadrons were assigned directly to the 31st FEW. In June 1952 the group was inactivated when the Wing completed implementation of the dual deputate organization.
On 1 November 1991, the unit, which had been redesignated the 31st Operations Group, was activated as a result of the 31st Fighter Wing implementing the USAF Objective Wing organization. The 31st Group was assigned the flying components of the wing with a mission to train combat-ready fighter crews for deployment in any part of the world.
On 24 August 1992, much of Homestead Air Force Base's physical plant was destroyed or severely damaged by Hurricane Andrew. Just prior to the storm's landfall in Southeast Florida, the 31st dispersed its fighter squadrons to safe areas away from the storm's path. These locations were:
The effects of Hurricane Andrew caused the almost total destruction of Homestead Air Force Base. Although both President George H. W. Bush and President Clinton promised to rebuild Homestead, the BRAC designated the installation for realignment to the Air Force Reserve, with the 31st Operations Group's squadrons being permanently reassigned to their dispersal bases, Moody AFB and Shaw AFB on 1 October 1992. The remaining wing elements worked to clean up and salvage government property at Homestead.
The 31st Group was reassigned to Italy in April 1994 without personnel and equipment, replacing the 401st Operations Group, to control flying operations for the 31st Fighter Wing.
From May 1994 – December 2004, the group participated in the major Balkan operations. Its squadrons also deployed personnel and equipment to support operations in Southwest Asia April 1991 – November 1995. In 2000 the group gained a Combat Search and Rescue Mission (CSAR), along with additional F-16s. The 31st also supported Operation Northern Watch, March–May 2002 and Operation Southern Watch, August–December 2002. Most recently the 31 OG has deployed personnel and equipment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.