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Deployed refuelers depart after 120-day rotation

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Brian Bahret
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
A trip from the United States across the Pacific Ocean is a daunting task especially without aerial refueling support. The 506th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron has provided that support for Andersen the last 120 days and is now poised to return to their home stations. 

One aircraft departed Thursday, two more are scheduled to leave April 30.
The 141st Air Refueling Wing from Washington Air National Guard from Fairchild is replacing the 506 EARS. They are scheduled to Arrive Saturday and Sunday. 

"If you want to employ combat power effectively, plan on having the tankers there," said Lt. Col. John Chapman, 506th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron commander. "Bombers can fly for a long distance, but you have to trade bombs for gas at some point." 

The same holds true for fighters flying overseas - like the B-52s, they need tanker support; without it the long flight would be much more challenging, said Colonel Chapman. 

"If you have an F-15 or an F-16 flying over the Pacific Ocean, either they're going to end up diverting, or they're going to take a swim," he said. 

That's when the aircrews flying the KC-135s from the 506 EARS step in providing the aerial refueling support. 

"The tanker support provided by the EARS here at Andersen has helped our bombers maintain a prudent deterrent capability throughout the Western Pacific theater," said Lt. Col. Steve Matson, commander of the 96th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron. "Their efforts greatly increase the range and flexibility of the B-52 missions we fly from Guam and allow our bombers to reach any target in the region." 

Prior to the 506 EARS deployment, the refueler requirement was filled with Air Force Reserve or Guard personnel rotating every two weeks. The active duty component remained in place 120 days, helping them to develop continuity and understand the theater better, and support the off base community more, said Colonel Chapman. 

While their primary role is to support the B-52s in their primary role to project a forward presence, the 506 EARS also supported other missions within the theater. 

"We've refueled C-5 aircraft and several multiple overseas fighter deployments," he said. The unit also provided multi-national support including refueling aircraft flying in Green Lightning, an Australian bombing exercise. They also supported and airshow in Australia. 

One of the more exciting times was when maintenance and operations worked together to evacuate the aircraft for Typhoon Kong-Rey, said Colonel Chapman. 

While the unit evacuated all four of the $39-million KC-135 Stratotankers to Hickam AFB, Hawaii, the aircrews ensured the bombers had aerial refueling support so they could reach Fairchild AFB safely. 

"Thanks to their timely support, we were able to protect our $74 million aircraft from potential damage as a result of the storm," said 1st Lt. John Owens, a navigator with the 96th Expeditionary Bomber Squadron. 

People have had the opportunity to experience Guam, get along and work together.
A lot of the Airmen participated in events downtown. Several volunteered for the USO, Sister Village and a variety of other community projects on and off base. 

"It's a team building experience," he said. "You want people to be proud of the Air Force."
"Even though we're deployed from different bases, we're a representation of Andersen while we're here," said Captain Creighton who helped organized several volunteer opportunities. 

Colonel Chapman said he's proud of his unit's achievements. 

"We've flown at a rate of two times the previous deployment," said Colonel Chapman. "We've done that with about two-thirds of the personnel of the previous unit." 

He explained that the Guard and Reserve rotate to Andersen every 30 days; the aircrews swap out every other week. He said they use Guam as a training opportunity to complete their annual tour while fulfilling mission requirements. 

The consistency helped them achieve the higher numbers, he said adding that support from the base was also a major factor in their success. 

"It's obvious from the Wing command on down that people here want to help and support the mission," said Colonel Chapman. "Whether we asked for communications, services or personnel support a lot of people have really gone out of their way to make it easier." 

One of the challenges the unit overcame quickly and smoothly was that the Airmen came from different squadrons at different bases, said Capt. John Creighton, 506 EARS maintenance commander. 

The 6th Air Mobility Wing at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., was the deployment's lead wing, and the 319th Air Refueling Wing from Grand Forks AFB, N.D. both supplied two KC-135s and three aircrews and support personnel. Additionally, the 92nd ARW from Fairchild AFB, Wash.; the Air Mobility Command headquarters at Scott AFB, Ill.; and the 97th AMW from Altus AFB, Okla., supplied personnel. 

For the maintenance side, learning how each base operates and varying procedures was the challenge. 

"Grand Forks does not have the same (aircraft) wash requirements as MacDill for the corrosive environment," said Captain Creighton. "MacDill maintainers were trained on doing aircraft washes while the Grand Forks personnel were not. They have contract washes." 

He explained that the environment at Grand Forks is less corrosive than it is at MacDill or here in Guam, so their aircraft don't have the same needs.
While there were some differences, they were mostly minor and easily overcome, said Captain Creighton. 

"For the most part, everything we've been trained on has been standardized," he said. "We have a few things that we standardized here that we learned from each other."
The mix of personnel offered educational opportunities hard to match at home, said Senior Airman Tom Talbot, a crew chief from Grand Forks. 

"I learn something new every time I go some where," said Airman Talbot. "I learned more about the culture here, than the aircraft. I learned how the community comes together and helps out one another." 

It is similar to the approach the Airmen take while on the flightline. When Airman Johnson showed an interested in learning more outside of his job as a jet engine mechanic, Airman Talbot was willing to help. 

"I know my job," said Airman 1st Class Luke Johnson, a jet engine mechanic from MacDill. 

"While watching (Airman) Talbot and what he was doing, it got me interested."
The two didn't know each other before their arrival here. But the relationship grew into one of mutual respect through the instruction. "He took the time to show me to the T.O.s and step-by-step instruction," said Airman Johnson. 

He added that Airman Talbot took the time to explain what could go wrong if you didn't follow those technical orders and do things right the first time. One of the devices he learned about was the integrated fuel management value and how if not monitored while refueling the aircraft, it could cause serious problems. 

"It tells you how much fuel and where the fuel is on the aircraft," said Airman Talbot. "You have to balance an aircraft so it can fly. If you have an unbalanced aircraft, it could crash."
In a wartime environment, that initiative to learn pays huge dividends in later deployments where the mission dictates a much faster pace.

"At Al-Udeid, and we had 20-something jets," said Airman Talbot. "If something happened and we had to get them all in the air, but this one had to be refueled I wouldn't have to worry about training him on the spot." 

"I could be more of an asset to the Air Force," Airman Johnson said. A scenario that could save lives in a wartime environment.

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