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Air National Guard key to missions around the world

  • Published
  • By Monte Miller
  • 375th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Many people refer to National Guard members as 'weekend warriors', but that simply isn't the case.

Hundreds of Guard units operate missions and perform the same duties as any other active duty wing or squadron in the Air Force on a daily basis.

One such unit is the 126th Air Refueling Wing at Scott Air Force Base, which performs daily refueling flights all over the country.

"This is the best job in the world," said Tech Sgt. Rick Gaddis, 126th ARWcrew chief. "I get to see the world and do something I love. If I didn't love it, I wouldn't have done it for this long. I enjoy working on airplanes."

Sergeant Gaddis added he began his career as active duty Air Force in 1979 and has seen many drastic changes since his early days working with B-52s with round analog gauges to the advanced digital flight controls and automated systems that are in place now.

"Navigators used to have to get their headings by using the stars," Sergeant Gaddis said. "Now its all computerized."

Several hours before each flight, Sergeant Gaddis and his counterparts are prepping planes for their missions.

"It's usually two or three hours before the flight crew arrives," he explained. "We do checks of all of the systems then they are double checked by the flight crew when they arrive."

When the flight crew of three arrives, they do yet another walk around of the aircraft and also check all of the flight controls while being assisted by the ground crews outside.

"We are their eyes and ears on the outside of the plane," Sergeant Gaddis said. "They cross check all of their systems and flight controls. Then we wait for them to load their flight plans and start their engines. When they do, we verify they have a good engine start and everything is running as it should be. We are very safety observant," he said.

Flight crews are generally assigned to one aircraft and are responsible for the overall maintenance and appearance of their plane every day. In addition, each flight crew has basic knowledge that can be used on any of the aircraft in the fleet.

Currently, the 126th ARW crews and pilots are in the process of training and getting to know the new KC-135R models, which just arrived about six months ago. There are many similarities with the KC-135A models the flight crews have had years of experience with.

"They are a lot like cars," Sergeant Gaddis said. "They can run for a long time with no problems, then they may have a snag. We have to know at least a little about every system on the plane. If we go on a trip with them, we may be the only ones that can repair something or know how to get a problem fixed," he said.

One thing many people may not know about an Air National Guard unit is they not only perform the same duties as active duty, but they also have many full time personnel that work everyday to keep planes flying.

Additional responsibilities of the full-time guard personnel include keeping all of the guardsmen and women up to date on any changes or updates that may have taken place since their last guard weekend.

In addition to their everyday mission duties, members of the National Guard are usually the first ones deployed to any state emergencies. For example, members of the 126th ARW were recently deployed to northern Illinois to assist communities with fighting floodwaters.

Maintenance crews in the hangar are also a vital part of the 126th Air Refueling Wing.

About once a month, a different KC-135 is rolled into their hangar for a periodic phase inspection, which adds up to taking the plane apart and putting it back together again while checking every detail.

This process is necessary, due to the age of the Air Force's refueling fleet. Most KC-135 aircraft average 50 years in age.

"These planes are very well maintained," Sergeant Gaddis said. "How many 50-year-old cars do you still see racing around the world?"

The phase inspections usually take about two weeks, or 10 man days with a crew of 20 checking the aircraft from top to bottom, inside and out and from nose to tail.

The maintenance and ground crews play a vital role in getting the planes in the air and flying safely, but that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the overall refueling mission.

"Where the plane goes, what it refuels and when it comes back is all up to the flight crew and operations," Sergeant Gaddis said. "We just give them an airplane. "

Editor's note: This story is part one of a two part series on the 126th Air Refueling Wing.