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64th ARS pilot completes 100th combat sortie

Lt. Col. Thomas Blake is a pilot serving with the 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron at Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan. Blake, who recently completed his 100th combat sortie and fini flight, is deployed out of Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H., and is a native of Wakefield, N.H. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett)

Lt. Col. Thomas Blake is a pilot serving with the 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron at Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan. Blake, who recently completed his 100th combat sortie and fini flight, is deployed out of Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H., and is a native of Wakefield, N.H. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett)

TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan -- A 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron pilot deployed to Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, recently flew his 100th combat sortie during an air refueling mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

"The mission today is to fuel the fight over Afghanistan," said Lt. Col. Thomas C. Blake, deployed from Pease Air National Guard Base, Portsmouth, N.H. "Throughout the entire length of this campaign we have been providing fuel so that the fighters, bombers and transport aircraft don't have to land and get refueled and spend time as well as extra expenses on trying to get what they need."

Although it isn't uncommon for a pilot to reach 100 combat sorties, Blake said the timing is what makes this milestone special.

"One hundred combat sorties after an 11 or 12 year campaign isn't totally unusual," Blake said. "What's unique for me is that my first combat sortie didn't start until I was well into my career nearly 10 years ago in 2004 at age 45. To have my last one here at age 55, for me it's a milestone. I can take that and put it away and maybe tell my grandkids about it someday, that's why it's unique."

Blake, a Wakefield, N.H., native has had a unique Air Force career that spans 32 years.

"I'm a returned to active duty guy. We're affectionately known as re-treads, like taking an old tire and putting new rubber on it," Blake said with a laugh. "I was on active duty and then I separated from the Air Force for six or so years; then came back to the Air National Guard, and did that for 13 years. I had my first opportunity to come here, separated from the guard and was offered the opportunity to come back on active duty. So I've been in the Air Force three different times."

Blake is currently active duty, but when he was in the Air National Guard, he was a military and civilian pilot.

"I've had the opportunity to do that [military flying] and civilian flying at the same time, back and forth," Blake said. "It's been a very rewarding career, a very busy career. Overshadowing the whole thing is a love for this country, it's very simple."

His passion for flying began at a young age.

"My mother took me to Spain in a plane pretty close to this one a long time ago, that's when I fell in love with aviation," Blake said. "From that point I wanted to be an airline pilot, a military pilot, I wanted to do whatever it took to get up in the air. I went through the military for my Air Force training and fell in love with military flying."

Although he plans on retiring from his Air Force career within a year, he said he'll most likely go back to being an airline pilot.

"I'm going to stay home and be with my wife and fly the 'line', as they call it in the airlines," he said. "It's not quite as exciting as this, not quite as demanding, but it's good just the same."


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