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Expeditionary aircrew spends Christmas at 30,000 feet

A 380th Air Expeditionary Wing KC-10 Extender pilot, 1st Lt. Andrew communicates with maintainers during a preflight inspection before flying a sortie in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Dec. 25, 2016. Since Oct. 2016, 380 AEW KC-10s have completed more than 1,500 sorties against Da’esh and Levant operations in Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Tyler Woodward)

First Lt. Andrew, a 380th Air Expeditionary Wing KC-10 Extender pilot, communicates with maintainers during a preflight inspection before flying a sortie in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Dec. 25, 2016. Since October 2016, 380th AEW KC-10s have completed more than 1,500 sorties against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Tyler Woodward)

Two F-15E Strike Eagles prepare to receive fuel from a KC-10 Extender over Iraq, Dec. 25, 2016. F-15s are providing precision guided close air support during Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, a multinational effort to weaken and destroy Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, operations in the Middle East region and around the world. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Tyler Woodward)

Two F-15E Strike Eagles prepare to receive fuel from a KC-10 Extender over Iraq, Dec. 25, 2016. F-15s are providing precision guided close air support during Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, a multinational effort to weaken and destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Tyler Woodward)

An F-16 Fighting Falcon receives fuel from a KC-10 Extender over Iraq, Dec. 25, 2016. Many pilots wore a traditional red “Santa” hat while flying on Christmas Day. F-16s are providing precision guided close air support during Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, a multinational effort to weaken and destroy Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant operations in the Middle East region and around the world. (U.S. Air Force photo | Senior Airman Tyler Woodward)

An F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot dons a traditional “Santa” hat while receiving fuel from a KC-10 Extender over Iraq, Dec. 25, 2016. F-16s provided precision guided close air support during Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, a multinational effort to weaken and destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Tyler Woodward)

A 380th Air Expeditionary Wing KC-10 Extender pilot, 1st Lt. Andrew, eats reheated pizza during a sortie in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve over Iraq, Dec. 25, 2016. Crew members used two small ovens to prepare their holiday meal. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Tyler Woodward)

First Lt. Andrew, a 380th Air Expeditionary Wing KC-10 Extender pilot, eats reheated pizza during a sortie in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve over Iraq, Dec. 25, 2016. Crew members used two small ovens to prepare their holiday meal. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Tyler Woodward)

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) --

A fog peeled back slowly from the flight line. Four aircrew members emerged from a transit van sharing witty banter and a few cheerful words as they moved their flight equipment towards a nearby KC-10 Extender.

Holiday songs emitted from a speaker while the aircrew members and two crew chiefs prepared for preflight inspections. A lieutenant cracked open a plastic container of care-package-cookies and passed them around.

The unity and brotherhood of a small aircrew creates a family atmosphere during the holidays for Staff Sgt. Aaron, a KC-10 flight engineer.

“It’s just the four of us; day in and day out, at all hours, they’re by your side. We laugh together, cry together, get mad at each other and at the end of every day we come together to find a way to make the mission work,” Aaron said.

When the KC-10 reached its position near Mosul, Iraq Senior Airman Grant, a KC-10 boom operater, was signaled to ready the boom-pod for refueling.

Breaking through a sea of white clouds, two F-16 Fighting Falcons emerged loaded with precision guided munitions. The Fighting Falcons were one of three coalition aircraft refueled during the sortie; the refueling crew offloaded 108,000 pounds of fuel in total.

“Flying on Christmas day was good for us because every aircraft we offload fuel to is in some form supporting the guys on the ground – who are also missing their families,” said Lt. Col. Danny, a KC-10 pilot.  “The fight against terrorism is 24/7 and we have to maintain decisive airpower over the area of responsibility at all times, even on Christmas.”

While the KC-10 crew was flying near Mosul, families all over the world gathered for holiday festivities. Food is one of the most cherished holiday traditions. However, at 30,000 feet, Christmas dinner had limitations. 

Two small metal ovens behind the cockpit served as the in-flight kitchen. Grant twisted the black knobs to 400 degrees and set the timers. Shortly after, the front of the aircraft blossomed with a scent of chocolate chip cookies and pizza.

“It’s funny, you know, we got pizza as opposed to being at home with friends and family at a big dinner. But, we make it fun,” Grant said. “It’s kind of cool to see everyone bring the holiday spirit up in the air. We see Santa hats up here and everybody is having fun all the while still executing and doing what we need to do.”

As the sun set on the world a warm glow softly covered the powdery clouds. The white Christmas sky turned orange, then purple and then black. Panels of lights, knobs and gauges draped the cockpit like a finely lit tree.

The crew landed safely at their forward operating location, successfully completing another sortie in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.

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