06/20/10 — 911th records successful first year; command change

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911th records successful first year; command change

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on June 20, 2010 1:50 AM

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Lt. Col. Bill Uptmor discusses his tenure as 911th Air Refueling Squadron commander.

Two years after standing up, the 911th Air Refueling Squadron has proven its mission a success, at least in the mind of outgoing commander Lt. Col. Bill Uptmor.

"Absolutely it has been a phenomenal success," Uptmor said.

The attachment of the active duty 911th to the reserve 916th Air Refueling Wing -- the first such attachment for a refueling wing -- was mandated by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

And so far, Uptmor said he feels like the 911th has fulfilled those expectations.

"I would say we probably exceeded the goals they had in mind. I would hope we have anyway," he said.

He explained that before the active duty 911th joined the reserve 916th Air Refueling Wing, the 916th was logged approximately 2,400 flight hours in 2008. In 2009, with the 916th and 911th combined, airmen logged approximately 9,000 flight hours -- resulting in a 16-fold increase in the number of hours flown for Overseas Contingency Operations.

That means, Uptmor said, airmen are receiving more flight time and are providing more support to the military's various missions.

"We're flying the aircraft at a much higher rate than ever before," he said.

In 2009, more than 130 airmen were deployed throughout six different Central Command locations flying 800 combat missions, as well as providing medical evacuation flights to Germany.

But not only have the wing and squadron proven themselves in the battle arena, the 911th also recently was named the Air Force's best KC-135 wing for 2009, winning the General Carl A. Spaatz trophy for excellence in the aerial refueling arena.

The 916th RODEO team also won awards in 2009 at Air Mobility Command's RODEO competition for Best KC-135 Air Crew, Best KC-135 Cargo Load, Best KC-135 Postflight and top honors as Best KC-135.

"The squadron has been tremendously successful ... especially our first year out of the blocks," Uptmor said.

But, he said, those awards and the ability of 916th and the 911th to carry out their missions, both overseas and at home, are a result of their ability to integrate the two units -- as well as to work with the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour.

"It's really a marriage of three wings. Reserve and active duty used to work on their own separate schedules. Now we're integrated," he said.

That means they train and deploy together, acting as one unit.

"If called upon tomorrow, we could pack up and deploy together," Uptmor said.

Still, the fact that things have come together as seamlessly as they have wasn't entirely expected.

Not only was this the first time an active duty refueling squadron has been attached to a reserve wing, but there also was the sheer physical challenge of integrating 275 airmen -- about 500 people total, counting families -- into a new base and new community.

"The biggest challenge was getting everybody bedded down in the community," Uptmor said, especially with base housing being reduced on Seymour Johnson. "That was a bit of a concern. (But) it turned out to not be a concern. The community welcomed us with open arms and took us in."

Officials then had to get all their personnel qualified and up to speed -- a process they were given two years to complete. But, Uptmor said, within eight months the 911th had been fully absorbed and within 15 months it was fully operational, "which was phenomenal."

"There were just minor, minor ripples that we just overcame very quickly," he said.

The biggest challenge was getting a permanent facility in place. The wing's new home, built by Daniels and Daniels Construction, open-ed in August 2009.

"Things were tight here for a while," Uptmor said.

Now, though, after today's change of command ceremony, the responsibility for continuing the mission will be that of Lt. Col. Bruce "Phil" Heseltine, who has been in the Air Force since 1993, and is coming to Seymour Johnson from the Pentagon where he was a speechwriter in the office of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.