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ANG conducts air refueling training with NATO allies in Germany

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (AFNS) -- Nearly 30 Airmen from the Utah Air National Guard's 151st Air Refueling Wing recently spent two weeks at Geilenkirchen Air Base, Germany, Jan. 4-16 to provide air refueling support during training flights for NATO E-3A Sentry aircraft pilots.

The E-3A component, made up of members from 15 different countries, operates Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft which are used primarily for surveillance, as well as command, control and communications.

These surveillance flights can last more than 10 hours and require air refueling for completion.

"The air refueling is used to extend our time on station, meaning we can provide a longer time on station and therefore provide a longer air picture to the receiving units," said Lt. Col. Frank Bareither, an E-3A training wing branch chief for the flight technicians.

As the primary providers for training and refueling experience for the AWACS crews, the ANG deploys air refueling units for two-week rotations. This allows them to practice aerial refueling while keeping the pilots’ adequately trained in this crucial skill.

"To get the air refueling done, since it is really the highest complexity of flying skills, we need that training," Bareither said.

During air refueling, the two aircraft are approximately 40 feet apart.

"Every pilot needs to be very proficient; there is not much room for error, so every pilot needs to practice a lot," said Capt. Justin Christiansen, a 191st Air Refueling Squadron pilot. "We come and allow them that practice and get everybody used to it for when they really need to use it."

The ANG maintenance personnel ensured the Air Force KC-135R Stratotanker aircraft were refueled, inspected and ready for flight. The group consisted of crew chiefs and personnel from several sections, including the engine shop, supply, communications and navigation, guidance and control, hydraulics, electrical, sheet metal, and one maintenance operation controller.

The trip to Germany afforded some part-time maintenance personnel an opportunity to gain experience they otherwise wouldn’t have during their regular drill weekends.

"It allows us to do a lot of training for our traditional Guardsmen," said Chief Master Sgt. Gary Eisert, the 151st Maintenance Group maintenance chief. "They get two weeks’ worth of hands-on aircraft maintenance, where they don't get that much when they're back home."

Some challenges facing the group faced included the language barrier, working in an unfamiliar environment, and the challenging weather conditions that caused some flight delays and cancellations for the AWACS and the KC-135 aircraft.

"There are multiple languages being spoken and that translates into English in different ways, so understanding the pilots and their requirements or requests and also understanding the controllers is sometimes difficult," said Capt. Eric Cronk, a 191st Air Refueling Squadron pilot.

Although challenging, the training gave the guardsmen an opportunity to improve their skills in different conditions.

"This benefits the Utah Air National Guard and me personally by providing experiences outside of what we normally see in the states," Cronk said. "It puts us in more of a global work force and provides great training for real-world situations."