News>Air refueling squadron takes flight to fuel the fight
Staff Sgt. Anthony Krisher uses the mirrors in the boom pod of a KC-135R Stratotanker to check the air refueling boom before he refuels F-15E Strike Eagles over Iraq on Tuesday, April 18, 2006. Sergeant Krisher is a boom operator with the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron. He is deployed from the 434th Air Refueling Wing at Grissom Air Reserve Base, Ind. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Mark R.W. Orders-Woempner)
The reflection of a KC-135R Stratotanker is seen in the heads-up display of an F-15E Strike Eagle from the 336th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron as it refuels over Iraq on Tuesday, April 18, 2006. Fighters like the F-15E are able to stay in the air longer while providing support to ground forces because of the KC-135's mission. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Mark R.W. Orders-Woempner)
by Senior Airman Mark R.W. Orders-Woempner
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
4/28/2006 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) -- Fighters are in the air 24 hours a day, providing constant support to ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Without midair refueling, that coverage would be lost.
The 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron provides fuel to those thirsty fighters as they keep troops on the ground safe, said Lt. Col. Brou Gautier, 340th EARS commander.
“Our mission is simply to refuel the various aircraft supporting coalition ground forces,” Colonel Gautier said. “The fuel we provide to the close-air-support team increases loiter times, which in turn, allows a smaller force to be more effective over a longer period of time.”
Refueling the fighters is crucial to the war on terrorism because of what they bring to the fight, the colonel said.
“The air refueling concept is a powerful enabler behind the speed, precision lethality, and flexibility characteristics inherent to airpower. The A-10 (Thunderbolt IIs), F-16 (Fighting Falcons), F-15 (Eagles) and other fighters provide the teeth. The fact that we can keep them in the air for longer periods of time facilitates concentration of mass with an unprecedented economy of force,” he said.
“The way the war is being fought now would stop if we weren’t around,” said Capt. Joe Maxon, 340th EARS pilot. “We’re able to allow the fighters to hang out in an area to provide the ground guys with the support they need.”
Recently, the 340th EARS, which includes people and aircraft from nine active, Guard and Reserve units, was called to support Operation Mountain Lion over Afghanistan, Colonel Gautier said.
Operations reached their peak during the 10-day operation on April 15 when the unit off-loaded almost 50 percent of the millions of pounds of fuel transferred midair in the entire U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, said James Malachowski, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing historian. It was the largest one-day offload of fuel in the region since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003, Mr. Malachowski said.
Highlighting the accomplishments of his unit during Operation Mountain Lion, Colonel Gautier said the 340th EARS offloaded three times the combined amount of fuel offloaded by the nine tanker units the people in the squadron are deployed from. The unit offloaded 10 million pounds of fuel while consuming 10 million pounds flying the missions during those 10 days.
Having the success the 340th EARS and other refueling units have had does come with a price, said the colonel. The typical rotation for a crew is 70-30, that is, for every 70 days the crews are deployed, they get to spend around 30 days at home.
“That takes a tremendous toll on our crew force,” the colonel said, who added the Reserve and Guard forces have helped take pressure off the active-duty crews.
“The volunteer Guard and Reserve partners, who seamlessly plug into active-duty lines, allow for better training opportunities for active-duty aircrews at home and relief from a heavy deployment schedule,” Colonel Gautier said.
The KC-135 crews and their maintainers don’t just deploy to combat zones, said 1st Lt. Jesse Stubbs, a 340th EARS pilot.
“If we’re not supporting the fighters directly, then we’re helping move the airlift and bomber assets overseas,” Lieutenant Stubbs said. “We do this by forming an air bridge across the ocean that fuels those aircraft as they cross over.”
Aerial refueling is not the only mission of the tanker crews, said Staff Sgt. Anthony Krisher, 340th EARS boom operator.
“We often haul cargo and passengers while performing the main mission of refueling,” said Sergeant Krisher. “Boom operators often act like loadmasters, which isn’t what I expected when I was a crew chief.”
Despite the stresses inherent with the mission, Colonel Gautier said this is an exciting time to be in the tanker world.
“Taking part in these missions is incredibly exciting because when people review the history, they’ll be looking at the success of an operation from the lessons learned perspective,” he said. “The possibility that any of our daily operations here could be a decisive point in the global war on terrorism drives a tremendous amount of energy into what we do.”