The 126th Operations Group flies planes too

  • Published
  • By Airman First Class Nathan Dampf and Senior Airman Dustin Clary
  • 126th Public Affairs Office
The young Airman went to a party and visited his friends whom he had not seen in months. His friends were excited to see him, but they did not know why it had been so long since they had visited with him.

"Where have you been," they asked.

"I joined the Air Force," the new Airman replied.

His friends inquired further, "That's great! What do you fly?"

Similar to this story, the public has many misconceptions about the Air National Guard and the Air Force. Many times, they believe anyone wearing the Air Force uniform must fly planes. However, there is a lot that happens behind the scenes within the 126th Air Refueling Wing. Over the coming months, Wing Tips will feature a different spotlight on the Groups within the Wing and how they ensure mission success.

Seeing as how most people think of planes when asked or are told something about the Air Force or Air National Guard the first spotlight will highlight the 126th Operations Group.

Life Support

Tasked with protecting the fliers who carry out that mission is the life support field. Life support technicians are tasked with ensuring the aircraft contains all necessary gear that could potentially save the aircrew's lives: helmets, ejection seats, flotation devices, anti-gravity or pressure suits, etc.

"The point of our job is to protect the aircrew's safety," said Staff Sgt. Whitney Sunner, an aircrew flight equipment technician here. "It is life and death. Sometimes, you may have families coming in saying, 'Thank you. You saved my son's life.'"

Life support does not only inspect and maintain the equipment, but is charged with training the aircrew on proper use and care for the gear. If the need to use the gear arises, aircrew can thank their life support technicians for proper training.

Sunner says many people think that life support technicians simply clean masks and look for easily-found cracks, but there is more to it.

"Our daily efforts might seem monotonous," said Sunner. "But, those efforts could save someone's life."


In addition to the pilots and life support, the Operations Group also hosts intelligence analysts. Intelligence specialists collect, produce and distribute data that is used by commanders and aircrew during missions.

While that is the job description of Master Sgt. Beste Cooksey, a traditional guardsman from O'Fallon, the analyst summarizes the main function of intelligence.

"We disseminate intelligence information from higher sources to the aircrew and headquarters," said Cooksey. "We provide the global implications from a military intelligence perspective."

The primary task of the intelligence staff is to anticipate, said Maj. Tony Krueger, the Wing's senior intelligence officer.

"Our job is based on anticipation," said Krueger. "You have to know what's going on and how it can affect operations so we can provide valuable inputs to help the commanders make their decisions. They should not have to wait, so you have to be ready when they ask."

People not in the intelligence community may believe that information comes out of a bunker 500 feet under the ground, but Krueger and Cooksey joke that is one of the biggest misperceptions.

"The perception is we go in our hole and hide," said Krueger. "But, it is our relationships with the rest of the Wing that are important. If people don't know us and don't trust us, they won't use the information we put out."

Airfield Management

Some of the information from intelligence goes to airfield management. Airfield management coordinates with aircrews, air traffic controllers and other agencies to ensure safe operations in the airfield and through national and international airspace. They are also responsible for inspecting the ramps to ensure all lights are working and that all surfaces are in good working order.

With every mission, it is important to try and make it as safe as possible, and that is airfield management's specialty.

Airfield management uses the national and international airspace system to maintain and produce information on operations of the aircraft. The information that airfield management provides to the pilots comes in the form of weather information, flight information publications and notice to Airmen (NOTAM).

Last, and probably what the pilots say is most important, airfield management coordinates with base agencies to meet aircrew requirements for maintenance, billeting and food arrangements.


After all the hard work and information is collected and given to the aircrew, they are expected to execute the mission.

The aircrew must plan and prepare for each mission. Included in such plans are mission agendas, reports given to the aircrew from the intelligence group and weather reports from airfield management. All of this information helps the commanders and pilots put together a fight plan.

Before leaving the ground, the aircrew and pilots perform their own pre-flight inspections and compute and complete aircraft weight and balance documents.

The biggest and most-public part of their job is operating aircraft controls. The 126th Operations Group has the unique mission of supplying aircraft with fuel mid-flight. The aircrew of the tanker must work carefully to make a safe connection. But, the work does not stop there. Aircrew must maintain exact altitude and speed through the full refueling process as to not jeopardize the connection.

Aviation Resource Management

While life support, intelligence, airfield management and aircrew have their missions, there is one career field responsible for managing it all.

Considered the "Google of the Operations Group," the aviation resource management squadron (ARMS), or records management as it is sometimes referred, is responsible for interpreting mission plans, directing aircrew activity, reviewing aviation mission accomplishment reports, and preparing and processing flight pay orders (and who does not like to get paid?).

"We are the clearinghouse of information for operations," said Master Sgt. Linda Ivins, superintendent of the ARMS office. "We manage training for aircrew and generate reports based on the data we collect, and then submit that to command so they can make decisions."

Ivins and her staff pride themselves on the precision within their work due to the high level of scrutiny that would follow any missed detail.

"Don't underestimate this career field," said Staff Sgt. Demetrius Alexander, aviation resource manager for the 906 ARS. "It can be tedious, but it is important. We manage training, medical status and hours for everyone. We are the second-to-last set of eyes before people can fly."

Without all the pieces of the Operations Group puzzle, the mission is incomplete. Col. Jeff Jacobson, commander of the 126th Operations Group, said it best.

"The aircrew is the face of the Operations Group because they are the ones out flying the aircraft," said Jacobson. "However, it takes a whole team behind them to get them out the door and accomplish a mission."

Read the next Wing Tips which will highlight the Maintenance Group and go into detail discussing how they are different from the Operations Group, yet support the same mission.