Thursday, December 11, 2008

Air Guard to host three KC-135 associate wings

by Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, National Guard Bureau

Three Air National Guard KC-135 Stratotanker wings will become active associate units beginning this summer, Air Force officials here announced Dec. 10.

Active-duty Airmen will be assigned to the 117th Air Refueling Wing in Birmingham, Ala., the 126th Air Refueling Wing at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., and the 157th Air Refueling Wing at Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H.

They will begin reporting in July 2009, and the three active associations are expected to be fully operational by September 2011.

Under these associate organizations, the Air Guard wing will act as the host organization.

"New Hampshire's northeast coast location and very high quality of life make it an ideal location for the active-duty Airmen to train in and operate the KC-135," said Maj. Gen. Kenneth Clark, the New Hampshire National Guard adjutant general who is also a rated KC-135 pilot.

The assigned aircrew, maintenance and support personnel will work side-by-side with Guard members flying and maintaining the Air Guard's fleet of aircraft to accomplish the wing's missions including contingency deployments such as operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and Noble Eagle.

All three units already have participated in these operations. Members of the 157th ARW deployed 768 Airmen to locations throughout the United States and the world in the past year. They are instrumental in the Northeast Tanker Task Force trans-Atlantic air bridge that supplies millions of pounds of fuel annually to in-flight military aircraft.

In addition to its federal mission, these units have also responded to domestic crises, including Hurricane Katrina.

In June, the Illinois governor ordered members of the 126th ARW to state active duty to support the Illinois Guard's flood control mission. More than 330 unit members patrolled levees, sandbagged and provided security to flood-ravaged towns on a 24-hour basis.

In September, the 126th completed its transition from the KC-135E to KC-135R aircraft.

The 117th ARW has roots to a flying squadron that was founded in Birmingham and federally recognized in 1922. It is one of the oldest active Air Guard flying units in the country.

"The Air National Guard and Air Force have always trained together and deployed together," said Capt. Angela Rogers, a 117th ARW spokeswoman. "This initiative will close the gap and now allow us the opportunity to also work day to day together."

Air Mobility Command officials at Scott AFB will maintain administrative control of the active-duty Airmen.

Air Force officials said the associated unit construct will provide greater day-to-day mission capability in the three wings through an increase in full-time manning.

"Total force integration builds on state and regional capabilities, thereby increasing economic efficiencies and enhancing the Air Force's ability to defend the homeland against emerging threats and respond to natural disasters," said Gen. Craig R. McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau.

Such associations also generate efficiencies by sharing resources and reducing duplication of effort, increasing overall air refueling capability, and preserving a corporate body of knowledge.

They also help to improve aircrew and maintenance expertise by capitalizing on the long-term experience of Air National Guard members.

"Partnering with regular Air Force counterparts is a win-win for the Air Force," said Maj. Gen. Emmett Titshaw, acting director of the Air National Guard. "It allows our highly experienced citizen-Airmen to share their knowledge and experience with their regular Air Force teammates, and it provides the regular Air Force KC-135 force with additional opportunities for training and deployments.

"The war on terrorism has been a total force fight all along," he said. "By combining regular Air Force and Air National Guard Airmen and resources, the total force provides tailorable units with unparalleled responsiveness and global reach."