BANGOR, Maine: Demand for tanker airlift support is not expected to slow down in the near future, but the money to fund Guard and Reserve man-days for the mission will be decreased for fiscal 2011, Air Force officials said on Nov. 4. Gen. Raymond E. Johns, Jr., the commander of Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., spoke to members here at the Maine Air National Guard’s 101st Air Refueling Wing, which flies the KC-135 Stratotanker along with members of four other units as part of the Northeast Tanker Task Force.

He said the downturn in funding “doesn’t mean that (the Guard mission) is any less important.”

The units began flying air refueling missions across the Atlantic Ocean in 2003 as troops and equipment headed for Iraq. The mission has continued throughout operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unit officials said the 101st flew more than 1,000 missions under the program in fiscal 2010.

“The demand isn’t decreasing, but the dollars are,” Johns said.

He described the unit’s work as “marvelous” and added, “When the country needs us … you are here. You are what makes the Air National Guard … and the U.S. Air Force successful.”

In late September, more than 400 Airmen from five tanker units in four states were notified that they may lose their man-day funding at the end of October. So far, 21 Airmen at Bangor have been told to stand down.

On Nov. 4, General Johns and Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, the director of the Air National Guard, told the Maine Air Guardsmen that their participation in the air bridge would be scaled back during this fiscal year.

“We will meet … the demands of this country and at the same time take care of our people,” General Wyatt said.

In this fiscally constrained environment, Air Force officials must reduce the number of Guard and Reserve man-days by about 20 percent in 2011. Man-days are used by the active duty Air Force to fund Air Guard and Reserve members, who fill Air Force mission needs.

Guard officials said the tanker units represent a great value to the nation’s defense. The Air Guard makes up seven percent of the Air Force’s 2010 budget, but maintains about 40 percent of the Air Force’s fighter, tanker and airlift capacity.

“We keep getting called, because we can offer an efficiency,” General Wyatt said. “And we cannot lose sight of that fact.”

About 80 percent of the entire tanker force is in the Air Guard and Air Force Reserve, General Johns said.

The Northeast Tanker Task Force is made up of four Air Guard units from four states, including the 101st ARW in Maine; the 157th ARW at Pease International Tradeport, N.H.; the 171st ARW in Pittsburgh, Pa.; the 108th ARW at Joint Base McGuire, N.J. An Air Force Reserve unit from JB McGuire also is part of the bridge.

General Wyatt encouraged unit members to remember their culture and heritage, because “times are tough, and we have to stick together.

“We’ll make it through this,” he said.