• Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Ken Stephens
  • 126th Air Refueling Wing

In keeping with a quarter century precedent, the Illinois National Guard supported the Polish Air Force during the 2018 BALTOPS exercise in the Baltics from June 1-15.
The 126th Air Refueling Wing, located at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, provided aerial refueling for Polish Air Force F-16s along with other U.S. and NATO aircraft.
While participating in the exercise, the KC-135 aircraft from southern Illinois flew 23 sorties while pumping more than 875 thousand pounds of fuel during mid-air refueling missions to 102 receiving aircraft.
This effort occurred during the 25th anniversary of the State Partnership Program between Polish Armed Forces and the Illinois National Guard. The DoD program pairs a state’s National Guard with an international partner’s military forces for cooperation benefits and training opportunities.
The program creates a team effort that makes both sides more effective.
“Air-to-air refueling is an area where Europe faces critical capability shortfalls,” said Defense Attaché, Col. John Downey, of the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw. “Conducting these exercises with Polish aircrews is a great step forward in developing aircrew proficiency and extending the combat power of the F-16s and allows us to build upon the Illinois National Guard and Poland’s 2nd Tactical Air Wing’s strong relationship.”
Training together during an exercise sends a strong message of solidarity with Poland according to Col. Warren Barlow, Director of Office of Defense Cooperation at the Warsaw Embassy. “The Poland-Illinois State Partnership Program plays a critical role in Poland’s and the region’s security, including its participation in the recently concluded Saber Strike 18 and BALTOPS 18 exercise.”
Other events were also held to mark the friendship. According to Maj. Jeremy Miles, Bilateral Affairs Officer for the Office of Defense Cooperation, U.S. Embassy Warsaw, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner visited Poland in April to commemorate the anniversary in a ceremony with Polish Minister of Defense Mariusz Blaszcyak.
Consisting of more than 1,000 Air National Guard and active duty Air Force personnel, the 126th is the only aerial refueling wing in the Illinois Air National Guard and routinely practices its mission of immediate, sustained, long-range air refueling of both nuclear and conventional aircraft with U.S. Armed Forces and NATO allies.