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AF largest refueling squadron tops 50K combat hours in 2012

by Senior Airman Joel Mease
379th Air Expeditionary Wing

1/9/2013 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- Averaging more than 136 hours a day, the largest refueling squadron in the world flew more than 50,000 combat hours within 2012's 366 calendar days using the Total Force Integration model.

'Surpassing 50,000 hours is a significant milestone,' said Lt. Col. Brian Gilpatrick, 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron director of operations. 'It was like having six aircraft airborne 24/7 since the beginning of the year.'

Impressive as that is, how they got there with an integrated staff mixed with active duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Airmen is even more so.

'The 340th EARS is not only the largest tanker squadron in the world, but it is also one of the greatest examples of Total Force Integration,' Gilpatrick said. 'Each and every year, we have approximately 1,200 personnel rotate through the 340th from more than 50 units spread across 29 active duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve bases.'

The squadron commander believes this total force structure was critical to maintaining a high performance level while working under grueling conditions.

'This squadron and the 340th Aircraft Maintenance Unit could not function without the constant deployment of motivated individuals from the total force,' said Lt. Col. Max Bremer, 340th EARS commander. 'Additionally, the teamwork between maintenance and operations is the only way to keep this kind of operations tempo going year round. From the blazing heat in the summer to the winter fog and rain, our maintainers keep these Eisenhower-era jets flying, allowing us to have an amazing 97 percent mission effectiveness rate.'

Considering the age of the aircraft, those Airmen who maintained the planes played a critical part in the milestone.

'With almost a third of our aircraft swapping out on a monthly basis, our Airmen are constantly facing new challenges as they work the unique issues associated with each of these aging aircraft,' said Capt. Justin Taylor, 340th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge.

'Whether it is day or night, rain or shine, our highly motivated maintainers proudly work more than 12-hours a day, every day, to keep these 50-year-old aircraft in the air. Our maintainers operate with the understanding the safety of the aircrew and the success of the mission rests on their shoulders, and ensure no maintenance challenge goes unresolved.'

The teamwork and integrated force of other players is something the refueling squadron doesn't take lightly for their unit's successes.

'The 379th (Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron) and 379th (Expeditionary Maintenance Operations Squadron) have similar total force compositions and their ability to merge all of the units together into a fully functioning maintenance operation is remarkable,' Gilpatrick said.

'They work tremendously hard to ensure our crews have the most capable aircraft each and every time they step out the door. Just like our crews, the aircraft are constantly rotating in and out of theater, so this becomes a very challenging task; one that they always seem to master.'

For the aircrew who flew on the milestone flight, they hope this shows how capable a total integrated Air Force can be.

'As aviators, milestones like this highlight just how much the KC-135 has contributed during the last year, and also how much it continues to contribute to operations,' said Capt. Matt Mills, 340th EARS pilot. 'It also highlights how all three components of the Air Force come together seamlessly to get the mission accomplished. With wings now becoming more blended this milestone actually is a testament to all the crews of the Guard, Reserve and Active Duty.'

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