SJAFB not among first three to get tanker
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 16, 2012 1:46 PM
They still believe Seymour Johnson Air Force Base will be the home of a fleet of KC-46As one day -- that the 916th Air Refueling Wing is well-postured to be a recipient of the military's newest tanker.
But now that basing criteria that will be used to select candidates for the first installations to house the aircraft have been released, it seems clear Goldsboro will not be among the first three cities to celebrate.
In fact, 916th Public Affairs Chief Maj. Shannon Mann characterized the wing's chances as "slim to none."
So the storied Reserve unit will push forward with its mission -- and remain cautiously optimistic that three years after the very first KC-46s roll off the assembly line, some will make their way to Seymour Johnson.
Criteria released earlier this week indicated that candidates for the first three recipients -- the tanker's formal training unit, an active duty-led main operating base and an Air National Guard-led main operating base -- could be identified by the end of the year.
But since the 916th does not qualify as a contender, the unit will have to wait until Air Force Reserve wings, one in 2019 and one in 2028, are selected. Local officials feel good about their chances because, currently, the 916th is one of only two Reserve wings in the country that meet those guidelines.
916th Operations Group Commander Col. Caroline Evernham is among those who is optimistic about the wing's chances.
"We have one of the most touted total force integration wings in the entire Air Force," she said. "The Air Force has a strong plan to ensure these tankers are placed at the right location at the right time. We'll continue flying and maintaining the KC-135R Stratotanker here and keep our eye on the future, knowing that Seymour Johnson will be a great location for the KC-46A when the time comes."
And 916th Commander Col. Laen August spoke at length earlier this year about just why the wing was so "well-postured."
Seymour Johnson's proximity to Camp Lejuene and Fort Bragg is "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.
And Seymour Johnson's location offers more than access to other installations and aircraft.
"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.
So as the airmen continue in their mission, local military advocates will continue to state Seymour Johnson's case.
They will talk about local 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."
And they will unwrap just how successful the association between active duty and Reserve personnel has been.
Their hope: 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 by the end of the decade.