916th Air Refeuling Wing hoping to get new tankers
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on March 4, 2012 1:50 AM
If everything goes according to plan, the Air Force will identify the first two bases to house its new tanker by the end of the year.
Seymour Johnson Air Force Base officials know this.
So 916th Air Refueling Wing Commander Col. Laen August -- the man who will serve as the Reserve wing's top officer while Col. Randall Ogden is deployed to the Middle East -- took some time Friday afternoon to talk about just why the Goldsboro installation is worthy of receiving some of the very first KC-46As.
"We feel like we are exceptionally well-postured to be a future base location for the (aircraft)," he said.
His logic is fairly simple.
In "USAF Force Structure Changes: Sustaining Readiness and Modernizing the Total Force," a report published the first week of February by top Air Force brass, officials said they intended to "establish Active or Classic Associations at all continental U.S. KC- 46 locations."
And a Classic Association, one that pairs an active duty host with a Reserve associate, already exists between the 916th and the 4th Fighter Wing -- a fact that "raises our profile right off the bat," August said.
Seymour Johnson's proximity to Camp Lejuene and Fort Bragg is also "a plus."
"We've got ready access to a variety of Navy receiver aircraft, Marine Corps receiver aircraft, and we're positioned very close to over 18 refueling tracts here in the United States, to make it very cost-effective for us to conduct the kind of air refueling training that we need and our receivers need," August said.
But the base's location offers more than access to the other installations.
"We're also very near the eastern seaboard, so we're postured well for deployment," the colonel said. "But we're far enough away from the coast where we don't have to worry about salt water corrosion problems."
Then factor in the 916th's track record -- being the first KC-135 unit called upon to refuel aircraft over Libya during Operation Odyssey Dawn and the first to refuel the F-35 and F-22.
"We've got a great reputation from an operational standpoint," August said.
According to that February report, development of the KC-46 "remains on track for initial deliveries" in 2016.
And the requirements are currently being developed for the first two bases that will house them -- basing criteria are due to be approved in March and the candidates are expected to be identified by June.
So the colonel, knowing that a decision is slated to be announced by the end of the year, will continue to state Seymour Johnson's case.
He will talk about his airmen and how gracefully they perform their duties to ensure the wing's aging fleet of KC-135s is always ready when the nation calls.
"I'm constantly amazed that I'm flying an airplane that in most cases is as old, if not older, than I am," August said. "Not only do they look great, they fly incredibly well. I can tell you, the maintenance we have out here on these airplanes is unrivaled."
He will unwrap just how successful the association between active duty and Reserve personnel has been -- a partnership he characterizes as a "winning combination."
And his hope is that the Air Force will agree that something special is happening at Seymour Johnson -- that they will reward the base, and the communities that house it, with a new airframe to celebrate.
"We want to highlight ourselves," August said. "Because in many ways, we are one of the best kept secrets in North Carolina -- and in the Air Force."