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OEF anniversary: Deployed tanker pilots discuss supporting Afghanistan ops

by Master Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
Air Mobility Command Public Affairs

10/12/2010 - SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (AFNS) -- In the past nine years, Air Mobility Command statistics show AMC tankers have off loaded more than 12.2 billion pounds of fuel to aircraft for, Operation Enduring Freedom and other worldwide military operations.

Since OEF began Oct. 7, 2001, AMC total-force Airmen flying KC-135 Stratotankers and KC-10 Extenders have contributed to the operation.

Some of those tanker Airmen deployed today said they are more than happy to do their part in providing "rapid global air mobility."

"It is extremely rewarding knowing that we play a critical and pivotal role in the ongoing war in Afghanistan," said Capt. Sean Flynn, a KC-10 pilot deployed to the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron at a base in Southwest Asia. "With the constant supply of tanker gas, we can enable our fellow servicemembers on the ground and in the air to continue to do their mission."

Captain Flynn said "conditions in this war are tough."

"We often fly long hours and in extreme weather conditions," Captain Flynn said.. "You really see the big picture while working in the area of responsibility. It takes everyone from the base support staff, to the bus drivers, to the maintainers to help get us to the end result which is a successful mission in which we can deliver much-needed gas to help the fight."

Capt. Michael Jackson, also a KC-10 pilot with the 908th EARS, said having the opportunity to support the recent surge and overall operations in Afghanistan continues to be "humbling."

"I have friends -- Marines and Airmen -- from high school, who are on the ground currently in Afghanistan," Captain Jackson said. "I still keep in contact with them to this day. Each time I fly, I try to think of them and the support they need. I also realize that my part is such a small piece in the overall sacrifice that many of my childhood friends are making down there. I'm just glad to be a part of their support and I do it for them."

Captain Jackson said completing combat air refueling missions takes a team effort with every member of the KC-10 aircrew doing their job to the best of his ability.

"(Many) of the challenges have come from my experiences (in flying combat missions) as an aircraft commander," Captain Jackson said. "As a fairly new aircraft commander, I lean heavily on my crew. We have top-notch Airmen in the KC-10. I say (they are) the best. Being both a pilot and the leader of a crew is extremely challenging. We all know the weight that rests on our shoulders. I owe my crew all the admiration and credit for each mission that we accomplish."

From January through August, in all operations in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, tankers have flown more than 11,000 sorties off loading more than 688 million pounds of fuel to more than 54,000 U.S. and coalition aircraft, according to Air Forces Central statistics.

In Afghanistan, Captain Flynn said tanker Airmen overcome challenges every day while flying, and all those people who support the deployed air refueling mission have plenty of reasons to be proud.

"Communication is often one of our biggest challenges," Captain Flynn said. "The rugged terrain and conditions in Afghanistan make radio relays difficult at times. We often fly up to two hours before we are finally on station in country to support our receivers. The (operations) tempo demand is very high and the planes are getting worked hard. Luckily, we have the best maintainers in the military, who keep our aging fleet in great condition for us to be able to conduct our missions successfully."

During the nine years of OEF, many tanker aircrew members have surpassed flying 100 combat air refueling sorties. In September, Capt. Tyson Frost of the 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron at the Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, was one of those Airmen.

Captain Frost, a career Guard and Reserve KC-135 pilot, said he's doing what he loves every time he flies an air refueling mission over Afghanistan.

"I'm so lucky I get paid for doing what I love," Captain Frost said.

Captain Flynn may have said it best for all tanker Airmen after finishing what he called an "intense" air refueling mission over Afghanistan in September.

"Knowing that not only were we able to support our receivers, but help a critical ground battle was definitely a highlight," Captain Flynn said. "It really gives you satisfaction, both personally and professionally, in knowing that we are able to make an impact over here."

(Staff Sgt. Jeremy Larlee from the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs, and Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Buzanowski from the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs contributed to this story)



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