SOUTHWEST ASIA: Two thousand, seven hundred and fixty six.. That’s how many times in 2009 KC-10 Extender flight crews from the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron at an air base in Southwest Asia supported “troops in contact” in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
That number, according to Ralph Jackson, the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing historian, signifies the number of times KC-10s circled over a “hot” area and refueled fighter aircraft that were providing close-air support for troops on the ground in contact with enemy forces.
“As a KC-10 co-pilot, it is my duty, along with my fellow flight crewmembers, to fly the KC-10 Extender into the combat area of operations, delivering much-needed fuel to the fighters who protect friendly coalition forces on the ground such as in Afghanistan,” said 1st Lt. Matthew Simpkins, who is deployed from the 9th Air Refueling Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. “On average, we fly three to four times a week, amassing around 30 hours of flight time.”
Lieutenant Simpkins is one in a number of people in KC-10 operations who helped the 908th EARS achieve what Mr. Jackson called a “staggering” 4,760 combat air refueling missions for 2009.
“In all those missions, the statistics show the squadron offloaded more than 422 million gallons of fuel to more than 31,400 aircraft,” said Mr. Jackson, who compiles the statistics for monthly and annual histories for the 380th AEW.
Capt. Wes Spurlock, a KC-10 pilot who also is from the 9th ARS at Travis AFB, said he enjoys driving the biggest air refueling aircraft in the Air Force inventory.
In addition to the three main wing fuel tanks, the KC-10 has three large fuel tanks under the cargo floor, one under the forward lower cargo compartment, one in the center wing area and one under the rear compartment. This air refueling giant has the capability of holding more than 55,000 gallons of fuel for every mission.
“Operations are happening every day that require fuel at a moment’s notice,” Captain Spurlock said. “The KC-10 has the capability and the people to make it happen.”
On the ground, the maintainers helping the KC-10 amass more than 40,000 flying hours in 2009 are Airmen like Senior Airman Justin Lassiter, a KC-10 aerospace propulsion journeyman assigned to the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. After each mission is done, Airman Lassiter and other maintainers give the plane a thorough “look-over” and any problems they discover are fixed.
He said he knows without the work of the maintainers, the expansive refueling mission they’re assigned to wouldn’t be achievable.
“The aircraft I work on refuels other aircraft directly supporting troops on the ground in places like Afghanistan,” said Airman Lassiter, who is deployed from the 605th AMXS at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. “If the aircraft engines I work on and maintain don’t work properly, the aircraft won’t be able to fly and do its mission. Our team of maintainers makes sure that is never a problem and we strive every day to make sure our planes meet their mission capabilities.”
In the chain of support for the KC-10 mission there are aerospace ground equipment, or AGE, Airmen who assist the aircraft maintainers in getting work done. That’s where Airmen like Staff Sgt. Efrem Flores in the 380th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron have the necessary equipment on hand, like generators, air conditioning units and maintenance stands, to keep the maintenance and flying missions going.
“We maintain the ground equipment which in turn supports the aircraft maintenance personnel,” said Sergeant Flores, who is deployed from the 374th Maintenance Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan. “What we complete each day is vital to the deployed mission. Without us, the aircraft deployed to the 380th would not get repaired or leave the ground.”