|Air Refuelers Provide Total Force Effort in Balkans|
Air Refuelers Provide Total Force Effort in Balkans
By Capt. David L. Englin, 16th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs.
Istres Air Base, France -- (AFPN) March 20, 2002 -- Reservists from the 916th Air Refueling Wing, a KC-135 Stratotanker unit from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. are helping to keep NATO fighters refueled over the war-torn region of Eastern Europe.
An Air Force Reserve Command KC-135 Stratotanker boom operator deployed to the 16th Expeditionary Wing here, "passes gas" to an F-16 Fighting Falcon from Aviano Air Base, Italy. The F-16 was on a mission securing the skies over the Balkans.
Photo by Capt. David Englin
The tanker crews have been part of the 16th Air Expeditionary Wing’s total force team here since late September.
"We all know what we’re in for as reservists," said Lt. Col. Bob, a KC-135 pilot whose last name is being withheld for security reasons. "We do this because we want to serve our country, and I’m glad that they asked me to do it. I know that it’s important for us to support NATO and the fighters out of Aviano (Air Base, Italy)."
Bob and Maj. Scott, another Reserve pilot from the 916th ARW, are airline pilots in civilian life.
"I’m a United Airlines pilot, and two of the planes (used in the Sept. 11 attacks) were United planes, so that hit home," Scott said.
Now Bob and Scott are flying aerial refueling missions over the Balkans as part of operations Joint Forge and Joint Guardian. These are familiar skies for Scott, who flew C-20 transport jets in and out of Belgrade, Yugoslavia, during the Bosnian peace negotiations.
The 16th AEW’s total force team also includes airmen from the Air National Guard.
The commander of the 16th Expeditionary Operations Group, Col. Thomas Greene, is a traditional guardsman from Alabama. When he is not commanding the 16th AEW’s operation out of Istres, he is an executive at a national telecommunications company.
"This opportunity to serve came up, so I took a leave of absence from my job to do it," Greene said. "This has been a great opportunity and a great experience."
About half of the airmen deployed to Istres are in the Air National Guard, Greene said.
Senior Master Sgt. Eugene Kampe, 16th EOG first sergeant, noted the sacrifices deployed airmen and their families are making so that the United States can wage war on terrorism and maintain its other commitments.
"Whether you’re at Istres, France, or in a tent in Turkey, being away from home you still have the same heartfelt loss and loneliness here as anywhere else," Kampe said.
"It’s hard but that’s what we signed up for and that’s what we believe in," said Master Sgt. Tara, an avionics technician deployed to the 16th EOG from the 916th ARW. Tara has two children. "It’s tough on them, but it’s part of our patriotic duty," she said.
Col. Terry L. New, the 16th AEW commander, said there is a connection between the war on terrorism and Air Force operations in the Balkans.
"By protecting innocent lives in the Balkans, not only are we working to ensure peace and stability there, but we are also spreading goodwill among Muslims, which will pay dividends in the war on terrorism," New said.
"Large (numbers) of the people we are protecting are Muslim," he said. "For the most part, they understand that America is on the side of peace and freedom because they see that firsthand. That makes it harder for extremists to find safe havens or fertile ground for recruiting." (Courtesy of Air Force Reserve Command News Service)