News: Deployed air refueling unit helps fuel the Afghanistan surge
Story by Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Larlee
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- On Dec. 1, 2009, President Barack Obama announced that an additional 30,000 troops would be sent to Afghanistan to help stabilize the country.
Whether it be in support of airlift missions or combat operations, aircraft fuel delivered by the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron from a non-disclosed base here is vital to the success of this surge.
The 908th EARS is part of the 380th Expeditionary Operations Group located at a non-disclosed location in Southwest Asia. The squadron's KC-10 Extenders deliver more than one million pounds of fuel in support of Afghanistan operations daily. That total is approximately 50 percent of the total amount of fuel distributed in the Afghanistan theater.
Using either an advanced aerial refueling boom, or a hose and drogue centerline refueling system, the KC-10 can refuel a wide variety of U.S. and allied military aircraft within the same mission. The aircraft is equipped with lighting for night operations. There are three main wing fuel tanks and three large fuel tanks under the cargo floor. Combined, the six tanks carry more than 356,000 pounds of fuel.
Lt. Col. Jimmy Shaw, commander of the 908th EARS, said the Afghanistan missions are challenging. In particular, there are numerous communication difficulties due to the rugged terrain. However, his aircrews are able to overcome the difficulties.
"The bottom line is they task us and we perform," he said. "It's rugged and it's difficult and you are not in friendly territory."
The colonel, a native of Tucson, Ariz., said the squadron's aircraft perform more than 450 sorties monthly. He said in the past aircrews spent 30 percent of their time deployed, but with the increased operations tempo, they now spend 70 percent of their time deployed. Shaw said that it is not rare for someone to be deployed three times in the same year.
Shaw said that they are able to keep up the heavy tempo largely in part to the flexibility and professionalism of the maintainers.
"They really have to jump through some impressive hoops sometimes," he said. "The fact that those guys can show up every day with a great attitude and continue doing the great things they do is amazing."
Capt. Thomas Fiordelisi, 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Extender Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge, said a symbiotic relationship between operations and maintenance is necessary for successful missions. The Seymour, Conn., native said even though they have been deploying at a heavy rate, they take pride in their work because they know it is for an important cause.
"With the increased operations tempo our skilled maintainers are in heavy demand," he said. "They love doing their job because they know they are contributing to something that is special."
Shaw said the high number of missions has his aircrews performing at their best. He said he sleeps well at night knowing that the refueling mission in Afghanistan is in good hands.
"We have never been more proficient," he said. "At this mission, I have no worries whatsoever that our crews are at the top of their game."