04/03/11 — 916th air refueling crew flying in mission in Libya

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916th air refueling crew flying in mission in Libya

By Maj. Shannon Mann
Published in News on April 3, 2011 1:50 AM

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following interview was conducted with the deployed 916th crew by Maj. Shannon Mann, 916th Air Refueling Wing's chief of public affairs, and the information about the mission was collected by her as well.

As responsibility for the military mission in Libya is transferred to NATO, the U.S. continues to maintain a strong presence in supporting Operation Unified Protector.

Part of that support is providing fuel to fighters maintaining the no-fly zone over Libya's air space -- a mission one 916th Air Refueling Wing KC-135R Stratotanker crew and maintainers are currently undertaking.

916th Operations and Maintenance personnel have been prepared to deploy since late February, as some crews and aircraft headed to locations in Southeast Asia to assist fighters rotating into and out of Afghanistan.

Lt. Col. Greg Potts, 916th Wing Plans officer, explained that the tankers ensure an air-bridge across the Atlantic to help move jets and people from the area of responsibility back home and vice versa.

"They were short of tanker crews to do the mission," he said. "We were able to provide a primary ground spare and an ad hoc maintainer package."

While the team of mobilized and volunteer Reservists, along with their active duty counterparts in the 911th Air Refueling Squadron, was fulfilling this critical mission, the world was watching the deteriorating security situation in Libya.

And it quickly became evident that Coalition forces, including those from the U.S., were preparing to enforce a no-fly zone in order to help protect Libyan civilians.

The 916th team was there on the first night of the Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn campaign over Libya and will continue to support its successor, Operation Unified Protector.

Maj. Dean Rancourt, director of operations for the 406th Air Expeditionary Wing and a Reservist assigned to the 927th Air Refueling Wing at MacDill, wrote to 916th leadership saying, "Your maintenance guys are being worked to the bone. They have seamlessly integrated hundreds of maintainers into our operation. They are working their tails off and doing an outstanding job."

The 916th is currently providing aerial refueling to joint and coalition partners.

The hours are long and the work tiring, but the men and women of this Air Force Reserve wing realize the importance of their role.

"I'm really glad we're here," said Master Sgt. Lori O'Connell, a KC-135 boom operator. "We're working long hours, but it's awesome."