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Deployed air refueling unit helps fuel the Afghanistan surge

A KC-10 Extender from the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron refuels an aircraft Feb. 1, 2010, over Afghanistan, during Operation Enduring Freedom air refueling operations. The air refueling capability of the KC-10 in combat operations allows fighters to provide close-air support for "troops in contact" in Afghanistan and other areas of operations.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Sean Chuplis)

A KC-10 Extender from the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron refuels an aircraft Feb. 1, 2010, over Afghanistan, during Operation Enduring Freedom air refueling operations. The air refueling capability of the KC-10 in combat operations allows fighters to provide close-air support for "troops in contact" in Afghanistan and other areas of operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Sean Chuplis)

A KC-10 Extender from the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron refuels F-16 Fighting Falcons Feb. 1, 2010, over Afghanistan, during Operation Enduring Freedom air refueling operations in February 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Sean Chuplis)

A KC-10 Extender from the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron refuels F-16 Fighting Falcons Feb. 1, 2010, over Afghanistan, during Operation Enduring Freedom air refueling operations in February 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Sean Chuplis)

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- On Dec. 1, 2009, President Barack Obama announced that an additional 30,000 troops would be sent to Afghanistan to help stabilize the country.

Whether in support of airlift missions or combat operations, aircraft fuel delivered by members of the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron here is vital to the success of this surge.

The 908th EARS' KC-10 Extender aircrews deliver more than one million pounds of fuel in support of Afghanistan operations daily. That total is approximately 50 percent of the total amount of fuel distributed in the Afghanistan theater.

Using either an advanced aerial refueling boom or a hose and drogue centerline refueling system, the KC-10 can refuel a variety of U.S. and allied military aircraft within the same mission day or night. There are three main wing fuel tanks and three large fuel tanks under the cargo floor. Combined, the six tanks carry more than 356,000 pounds of fuel.

Lt. Col. Jimmy Shaw, the commander of the 908th EARS, said the Afghanistan missions are challenging. In particular, there are numerous communication difficulties due to the rugged terrain.

However, he said his aircrews are able to overcome the difficulties.

"The bottom line is they task us and we perform," he said. "It's rugged and it's difficult and you are not in friendly territory."

The squadron's aircraft perform more than 450 sorties monthly, the colonel said. In the past, aircrews spent 30 percent of their time deployed, but with the increased operations tempo, they now spend 70 percent of their time deployed.

Colonel Shaw said it is not rare for someone to be deployed three times in the same year, and the members of the 908th EARS are able to keep up the heavy tempo due largely to the flexibility and professionalism of the maintainers.

"They really have to jump through some impressive hoops sometimes," he said. "The fact that those guys can show up every day with a great attitude and continue doing the great things they do is amazing."

A symbiotic relationship between operations and maintenance is necessary for successful missions, said Capt. Thomas Fiordelisi, the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Extender Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge.

Even though they have been deploying at a heavy rate, they take pride in their work because they know it is for an important cause, he said.

"With the increased operations tempo our skilled maintainers are in heavy demand," Captain Fiordelisi said. "They love doing their job because they know they are contributing to something that is special."

Colonel Shaw said the high number of missions has his aircrews performing at their best.

He said he sleeps well at night knowing that the refueling mission in Afghanistan is in good hands.

"We have never been more proficient," he said. "At this mission, I have no worries whatsoever that our crews are at the top of their game."