The Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 128th Air Refueling Wing is hard at work fueling — or, in this case, refueling — the nation’s war effort in the skies over the Middle East and Southwest Asia.
Airmen and KC-135 refueling tankers from the Milwaukee-based wing have spent the past four months fulfilling their federal mission as the nation’s combat reserve, serving as the backbone of the air campaign supporting Operations Inherent Resolve and Freedom’s Sentinel in Southwest Asia. This deployment is part of the Wisconsin National Guard’s federal role as a primary combat reserve asset.
The KC-135 has provided this core aerial refueling capability for the U.S. Air Force over the past five decades, and the 128th Air Refueling Wing currently has five KC-135s supporting the operations. In addition to this critical aircraft, more than 140 Airmen from the 128th will deploy over the course of the wing’s rotations into the region. The first rotation left Milwaukee in late September 2015, and have since returned. The deployment length varies per individual based on responsibilities, but rotations are expected to continue at least through June.
The 128th Air Refueling Wing alone flies four to five sorties per day. As of late December 2015, 128th aircrews had flown more than 440 sorties and offloaded nearly 20 million pounds of fuel, or 3 million gallons, to approximately 1,500 receiving aircraft since deploying to the region in early October. In that time, they amassed more than 3,100 flight hours and re-fueled aircraft such as the F-15, F-16, A-10, C-130, B-1, C-17, joint, and coalition aircraft.
Col. Daniel Yenchesky, the commander of the 128th Air Refueling Wing, is extremely proud of the critical role his Airmen have played since deployed.
“To put that amount of jet fuel into perspective, an Olympic swimming pool 25 meters wide, 50 meters long and two meters deep holds 660,000 gallons,” he said. “Our Wisconsin Airmen delivered over four-and-a-half Olympic pools worth of jet fuel, in the air, during combat operations. It is just an extraordinary achievement.”
Yenchesky also pointed out the efforts of the wing’s maintenance team, who work tirelessly to ensure the unit’s jets are ready for combat when they arrive in theater.
“This takes a significant maintenance scheduling and preparation effort for months in advance of the deployment,” he said. “When a Milwaukee jet shows up in desert, they put it to work.”
“It is a testament to the skill, dedication, and readiness of our Airmen and the quality of our aircraft that they can maintain that brisk operations tempo and do it safely,” he added. “The Wisconsin Air National Guard’s contribution to Inherent Resolve and Freedom’s Sentinel is something we can all be proud of.”
Generally the rotations for Airmen from the 128th range anywhere from 30 to 120 days, depending on their individual mission set.
Their efforts, and those of the aircraft they refueled, are supporting the U.S. campaigns in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf and Yemen and keeping American and Allied aircraft in the skies.
Staff Sgt. Elvis Alvarado, a 128th boom operator, was proud to play such a critical role in the round-the-clock campaign to keep America’s combat and support aircraft flying nonstop. As a boom operator, Alvarado guides the KC-135’s fuel boom as it connects to the refueling aircraft.
“I feel a sense of pride and excitement every time we go out to fly,” he said. “I am proud to be part of the mission in such a big way. My job is never mundane, and it requires patience and precision. A job like that is fulfilling to the core.”
Master Sgt. Eric Dorn, the lead technician on an aerospace propulsion crew said his recent 60-day tour to the region was a success. Dorn and his team worked 12-hour shifts each day, and they were one of the four aerospace propulsion crews at his location. Despite the fact that they all came from different service components, he said, the crews built cohesion and worked together effectively.
“My unit was made up of Guard, Reserve and Active Duty,” he said. “But we created a good continuity. We worked really well together.”
In addition to the 128th Air Refueling Wing Airmen, the Wisconsin National Guard has just under 100 Soldiers deployed to locations around the world; the remaining nearly 9,000 members stand ready to answer the call as the state’s first military responder or in their capacity as the nation’s combat reserve.