Goldwater Air National Guard Base --
“He’s back safe from his mission,” read the text as she glanced at her phone.
For U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Maria Breceda, the 161st Air refueling Wing’s administrative assistant, it was a brief moment of relief not unlike others she had experienced over the last nine months of her second-oldest son’s deployment to Afghanistan as an airborne infantryman with the 25th Infantry Division.
She said a silent prayer of thanks, something all too familiar to her after already enduring two deployments with her ex-husband and a deployment of her oldest son, who also serve in the U. S. Army.
“A mother’s concern for her child does not waiver with age or time,” Sergeant Breceda said. “Even though we have a family legacy of serving in the military, I said a prayer every day to keep a watchful eye over my son Michael and the members of his unit.”
Over the next few weeks she learned just how her prayers had been answered, and how close her family and military family truly are.
On April 30, a company from U.S. Army Pfc. Michael Breceda’s battalion was assigned to a special operations unit that was conducting a mission with Afghanistan security forces against a Taliban facilitation network in Tagab District, Kapisa Province.
“Up to that point in the deployment enemy contacts with our units had been sporadic,” Private Breceda said. “The contact that day was one of the most intense any of our units experienced.”
Flying in close proximity over the battlefield, a 161st ARW crew deployed from Goldwater Air National Guard Base, Phoenix, was conducting combat support in their KC-135R Stratotanker, when they overheard radio traffic from an A-10 Thunderbolt II that was in need of refueling as it responded to a request for close air support for troops in contact with enemy forces.
Although they were not directly assigned to the mission, U.S. Air Force Maj. Mikael Dubois and U.S. Air Force Capt. Benjamin Howell, the pilot and co-pilot of the KC-135, volunteered to support the A-10s.
“We knew that the mission was critical,” Howell said. “We could hear the intensity in the voice of the A-10 pilot over the radio and volunteered our support.”
Terrain, altitude, and the type of aircraft being refueled all contribute to a unique challenge that the aerial refueling crew face during this mission. With quick adjustments and pilot coordination the aircrew successfully linked up to the A-10s, delivering fuel and getting them back into the fight.
“This refueling was textbook and went as smoothly as could be expected,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Laura Carroll, a boom operator with the 161st ARW. “We were able to quickly adjust altitude and speed to line right up with the A-10s.”
The refueling crew stayed in the area, providing continual support until the dust finally settled on the ground. After returning to their base, the aircrew learned that during the mission they had been supporting a Solider had been killed and another was injured.
“This was the first time I had supported a mission that had lost someone,” Howell said. “It made an impact on me and I knew we had made the right call to volunteer when we did.”
Upon returning home from their deployment, the aircrew was asked to brief the Wing commander during a staff meeting in June about the combat support role they performed. Sergeant Breceda was also in attendance.
During the briefing the aircrew talked about the specifics of the flight and lessons learned on the mission. They also emphasized the impact the mission had on the infantry unit after already sustaining casualties during the fight.
“The success of an air refueling mission like this takes the whole team,” Dubois said. “From the maintenance crews making the jets fly, to the operations support getting us out the door, missions like this one really put what we do, and the importance of it, all in perspective.”
Over the weeks that had followed her son’s return from deployment, Sergeant Breceda had also learned of the unit’s loss and casualty, each of which had stuck in her head.
“I learned early on to not ask a lot of questions or try to get too much detail in the moment,” Sergeant Breceda said. “I usually wait to hear most of it for whenever my son was ready to talk about it or from his dad when he shared the information with him.”
After the briefing Sergeant Breceda began talking with the aircrew about the mission and during the conversation she confirmed that they had in fact been supporting her son’s battalion on the ground.
At that moment she knew that being separated by thousands of miles, for over nine months, the bond of mother and son could not be broken.
“During my son’s deployment I always prayed for protection from above,” Sergeant Breceda said. “This time it happened to be answered by a KC-135 and an A-10.”