96th ARS aircrews take off with Total Force Integration

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nathan Allen
  • 15th Wing Public Affairs
The combination of adrenaline and excitement can be hard to hide in a person's expressions, but Lt. Col. Brian A. Hill wears it on his face like war paint. He runs on it.

Several hours elapsed since he and the rest of the aircrew for the 96th Air Refueling Squadron's first operational mission arrived for the sortie fresh, eager and focused on what would ensue. He made no effort to hide the accomplished grin he'd worn all night long as he opened a bottle of champagne and served it to anyone willing to share in the celebration in the little room inside Hangar 13 here.

As Colonel Hill poured the last glass of champagne, each person in the room began to recount the mission's highlights.

"My landing was a little off center," said Capt. Jasmine M. McCann, one of the 96th ARS pilots for the mission.

"The air refueling seemed like it lasted a long time," said Col. Jeff W. Morgan, the 15th Operations Group commander here, sporting a smile similar to Colonel Hill's. Even Colonel Morgan made the effort to stretch his schedule to 3:30 a.m. to be a part of the mission.

The silent moments between each person's feedback, however, indicated a collective agreement that the mission was a huge success.

In response to the need to support in-flight refueling for planes traveling to, from, and through the Pacific theater, the 96th ARS, and its fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers, was reactivated in July. Since then, the squadron has flown more than 60 training missions to familiarize future aircrews with the region and fulfill training requirements. All of these efforts led up to the squadron's inclusion in the 15th Wing's arsenal here Dec. 14.

Throughout the 96th ARS's 69-year history, the unit has been located in Hawaii twice, and once in each Japan, Oklahoma, and Washington state. In 2005, the squadron deactivated at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. In July, the squadron reactivated here as part of a total force integration partnership with two existing Hawaii Air National Guard units: the 203rd Air Refueling Squadron and the 154th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

The unit's relocation here makes sense to Colonel Hill, in light of the base's location in the Pacific theater.

"With all this water and all the distance we have between terra firma, the tanker provides the global reach and mobility needed to operate around the (Pacific) theater," Colonel Hill said. "No aircraft anywhere can get very far without fuel. Nobody kicks (derriere) without tanker gas ... nobody," he said quoting a universal slogan used by many air refuelers in reference to the services they provide.

This old tanker slogan complements another one bestowed on current 96th ARS "tankers" by former members of the unit.

"Back in the day, air refuelers were known as 'tanker toads,'" Colonel Hill said. "The tanker's job back then was to provide every ounce of fuel it could to the bomber going downrange. If the tanker gave away so much gas that it couldn't land on a runway, so be it. The tanker would be sacrificed. The toad came into play as an acronym for 'take off and die.'

"Who in their right mind would take off and give all their gas away in mid-air?" he asked. "Fortunately we carry enough gas now that we don't have to worry about it."

When the KC-135 operated by the 96th ARS crew took off here, it contained 185,000 pounds of fuel. While over the Pacific Ocean, 110,000 pounds of fuel were transferred in a span of 34 minutes to a B-52 Stratofortress on the tail end of an 18-hour flight to Guam. Between the fuel lost during transfer and the fuel burned by the KC-135 itself, only 18,500 pounds remained when the crew returned.

As part of the 96th ARS partnership with the 203rd ARS, each sortie is conducted with a "total-force-integration" mentality, or what Colonel Hill would call a "total-family integration."

Aircrew members from each squadron routinely integrate to form aircrews to perform air refueling missions throughout the Pacific. For this reason, Colonel Hill found it fitting that the 96th ARS's first operational mission was conducted by an aircrew consisting of both active-duty and Air National Guard members.

"It's a total family commitment where we are all in together to make this thing work," Colonel Hill said. "It's only appropriate that when we fly our first mission, we do it as a total family, with both squadrons involved."

Master Sgt. Eric K. Faurot, with the 203rd ARS, was the boom operator for the mission. He's worked in an integrated environment with active-duty Airmen for more than seven years. He said he believes the total-force integration involved in the 96th ARS's first mission is a product of the ever-improving efficiency evidenced by active-duty and Air National Guard Airmen working side by side.

"We're never going to turn down a mission," Sergeant Faurot said. "Bodies will never be an excuse. We'll always be able to find personnel to jump on a sortie and do whatever it takes to make a mission 100 percent successful."

The squadron's first operational mission here marks another milestone in its 69-year history of air refueling. Colonel Hill said he expects current members of the 96th ARS to stamp their place in the unit's history by passing fuel within the Pacific Theater for a long time to come.