By Senior Airman Bahja Jones, 379th Air Expeditionary WIng
/ Published August 23, 2013
Southwest Asia -- Providing over watch for ground forces to get much needed rest, airborne forces to include B-1B Lancers are their eyes in the sky. Enabling these to complete their missions by providing necessary air-refueling capabilities are the Airmen of the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron deployed to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing here.
"We are an airborne gas station," said Capt. Matt Mills, a 340th EARS instructor pilot, deployed from Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H., originally from Clemson, S.C. "We provide the fuel for the fighters, bombers and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms providing aerial cover for the troops on the ground."
In June, the 340th EARS and the 340th Expeditionary Maintenance Unit here achieved its highest mission effectiveness rating in four years, and continued the trend into July with a 100 percent ME rate.
Effectiveness is based on the scheduled vulnerability time of the receivers, compared to the actual vulnerability time in which they receive fuel from the tankers.
During those two months, the 340th EARS flew more than 1,100 sorties for a total of 7,500 hours and provided more than 3,100 receivers with nearly 57 million pounds of fuel.
"We have the refueling mission, but honestly the real mission is protecting that 18-year-old on the ground," Mills said. "If we are operating 100 percent ME, he is getting the air coverage he needs and we're keeping him safe. It's a good feeling to know you are supporting the guys that are sleeping in ditches and Humvees and performing convoys, ensuring they have the overwatch and air support they need."
It takes the whole team to achieve a high ME, from the operators and the maintainers to supporting components, Mills explained.
"We may fly them, but it's maintenance who makes sure they are good to go," he said.
The Airmen in the 340th EAMU support the KC-135s here to ensure they are in prime flying condition. From the moment the aircrews land, they inspect and service the aircraft to get them back in the air as quickly as possible.
"On the maintenance side of the house it's important we fix the aircraft correctly the first time to meet all of the mission requirements," said Maj. Keith McCray, the 340th EAMU officer in charge deployed from Joint Base Andrews, Md., and a Prospect Park, Penn., native. "Especially here because we fly so many sorties each day, we have to constantly keep our birds in top shape to keep them continuously flying."
The 340th EAMU couldn't be as effective without the help of the entire 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Group, noted Tech. Sgt. Randy Suter, a 340th EAMU jet mechanic also deployed from Joint Base Andrews, and hails from Frederick, Md. From the analysis Airmen, who keep aircraft maintainers up-to-date with trends and corrective actions to maximize mission effectiveness, to the back shop maintainers, who fix parts off the aircraft - they get a lot of support from the other agencies.
"Maintainers need ops just as much as they need us," said Senior Airman Thomas Shea, a 340th EAMU crew chief deployed from Kadena Air Base, Japan, and a West Springfield, Mass., native. "We depend on them to debrief us properly on what's going on with the jet. If not, it takes us twice as long to figure out what's going on and troubleshoot, preventing us from turning the jets in a timely manner."
Unlike the typical airlift squadron, which will deploy an entire unit with an airframe, the 340th EARS and its supporting aircraft maintenance unit are made up of active duty, Air National Guard and Reserve Airmen from more than 20 different bases and nearly half rotate every 60 days.
"It's a challenge because we have to get everyone trained up as quickly as possible to understand the processes we use here," McCray said. "We all follow the same technical data, but things are done differently at other bases."
In that same right, all of the experiences each individual brings to the table offers a wealth of knowledge and helps them to operate using the most efficient practices, added Mills.
Bottom line, their effectiveness is crucial to supporting the folks down range who depend on the aircraft above, said McCray. For those aircraft to support them, they need the fuel - without it, they wouldn't be able to complete the mission.
"We keep fuel in the air so fighters can have fuel to drop bombs on target," Shea said. "That's our motto here."