HomeNews

News Search

Pumping gas in the sky

Scott AFB, Ill. -- "Our mission is to provide air refueling to anyone, anytime, anywhere," said Air Force Maj. Mike O'Koniewski of Edwardsville, deputy chief of scheduling, 108th Air Refueling Squadron, 126th Air Refueling Wing at Scott Air Force Base.

The Illinois Air National Guard's 126th Air Refueling Wing, the first air refueling wing in the Air National Guard, has a mission some may say is unique. The 126th performs three roles, its conventional mission, national emergency mission and state support mission using the KC-135 Stratotanker.

The conventional mission involves refueling aircraft from the Navy, Marines, Air Force, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard. The Airmen also refuel aircraft from coalition forces while serving overseas or serving as part of Operation Noble Eagle, defending the United States. The wing also performs relief missions, like delivering supplies to the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.

"They asked for volunteers for the Katrina relief effort, so I volunteered. It was the highlight of my time here," said Senior Master Sgt. Shonn Latimer of Florissant, Mo., chief boom scheduler and sergeant in charge of scheduling for the 108th.

The 126th does not always perform real-world missions; sometimes its mission is simply training.

"Day-to-day training is the key so that when a mission comes along, it's like second nature for these guys," said O'Koniewski.

The 126th must negotiate with the Federal Aviation Administration to use specific air spaces called tracks for training. They must also negotiate with receiver units so Airmen can work on every aspect of refueling aircraft in mid-air. The wing typically runs four training flights a day, which have to be set up weeks in advance.

"Most of the training missions aren't major offloads, but small amounts of fuel so that the Airmen can get the full picture from hooking up, to contact, to offloading fuel, also called passing gas," said O'Koniewski.

The 126th may sometimes be asked to refuel aircraft mid-mission; sometimes cutting a training session short, but Latimer said this provided great experience for the boom operators and pilots.

Deployments come on a four-to-six month cycle for the Illinois Air National Guard unit, but they share that time with two other units; one from the Tennessee National Guard and one from the Pennsylvania National Guard. The unit is expected to be deployed again in 2012 and the commanders of each squadron will meet to decide who is the lead unit during the next deployment.

The 126th can be deployed as a solid unit, with all the support forces it contains, like civil engineers, security forces and logistical personnel, or it can deploy only pilots, boom operators and planes, or only support forces known as Expeditionary Combat Support.

In 2003, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the wing deployed to the Azores off the coast of Portugal. It flew missions to provide fuel to aircraft carrying servicemembers and supplies to Iraq. It also was deployed to Qatar in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, refueling aircraft providing close air support to troops on the ground in Afghanistan.

"Refueling A-10's in Afghanistan at 16,000 feet when the mountain caps are 10,000 feet is a little scary. Insurgents could just pop out and take pot shots at you," said Latimer.

The 126th has a versatile mission that consists of more than refueling aircraft.

"Our civil engineers deployed to Kuwait, installing plumbing, building schools and any other type of construction to help the locals," said Air Force Col. Jeff Jacobson of Edwardsville, Vice Wing Commander, 126th Air Refueling Wing. "Our security forces went on multiple deployments to Iraq, mostly guarding air bases while their commander was stationed in Baghdad. I think they got a lot of satisfaction for performing a task they don't normally get to do."

The 126th consists of approximately 300 full-time Illinois National Guard Airmen and approximately 600 traditional Airmen. The unit also has a sister active-duty Air Force Air Refueling Squadron attached to it. The 126th has operational control over the active-duty unit, but administratively the unit falls under a unit from the active-duty Air Force. There are only three other National Guard Refueling Wings with active-duty unit's attached to them.

"The Airmen all mesh together," said Jacobsen. "They are embedded with our people to where you can't tell them apart.

The 126th recently celebrated its 60th anniversary in October 2010.
USAF Comments Policy
If you wish to comment, use the text box below. AF reserves the right to modify this policy at any time.

This is a moderated forum. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, violate EEO policy, are offensive to other or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly "off topic", promote services or products, infringe copyright protected material, or contain any links that don't contribute to the discussion. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. The AF and the AF alone will make a determination as to which comments will be posted. Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other non-governmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this page. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of the AF, DoD, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying AF endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Any comments that report criminal activity including: suicidal behaviour or sexual assault will be reported to appropriate authorities including OSI. This forum is not:

  • This forum is not to be used to report criminal activity. If you have information for law enforcement, please contact OSI or your local police agency.
  • Do not submit unsolicited proposals, or other business ideas or inquiries to this forum. This site is not to be used for contracting or commercial business.
  • This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

AF does not guarantee or warrant that any information posted by individuals on this forum is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. AF may not be able to verify, does not warrant or guarantee, and assumes no liability for anything posted on this website by any other person. AF does not endorse, support or otherwise promote any private or commercial entity or the information, products or services contained on those websites that may be reached through links on our website.

Members of the media are asked to send questions to the public affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted. We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. However, given the need to manage federal resources, moderating and posting of comments will occur during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be read and posted as early as possible; in most cases, this means the next business day.

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. The views expressed on the site by non-federal commentators do not necessarily reflect the official views of the AF or the Federal Government.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as name, Social Security number, DoD ID number, OSI Case number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, such as your name, that comment may or may not be posted on the page. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, DoD ID numbers, OSI case numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. The default for the posting of comments is "anonymous", but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.