Arizona Airmen, tankers return from Pacific deployment

  • Published
  • 161st Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs Office
More than 100 members of the 161st Air Refueling Wing of the Arizona Air National Guard returned from a three-week deployment to Guam, May 31.

The Airmen, along with four KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft, were deployed to Andersen Air Base to support the continued commitment to stability and security in the region by refueling other aircraft stationed and deployed in the area.

"We're there supporting a continuous presence in the region," said Col. Troy Daniels, 161st Air Refueling Wing commander. "It's important not only for these Airmen to get this training opportunity, but it's important for our nation to have this presence overseas. It says a lot about what we stand for and what we're doing for our country."

The deployment is part of a continued strategic pivot toward Asia. Last week, President Barack Obama made visits to both Vietnam and Japan, defense partners in the region, and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter will travel to Singapore this week to lead the U.S. delegation at the 15th Asia Security Summit.

"We were supporting bomber aircraft in the region, which in turn support strategic deterrence," said Lt. Col. Dean Owen, 197th Air Refueling Squadron commander, and mission commander for the deployment. "The mission of the KC-135 is extremely diverse."

In addition to supporting the deterrent capability the Department of Defense maintains in the Asia-Pacific, the Airmen and aircraft of the 161st can be called on at any time to support operations where aircraft can't afford to run out of fuel.

"We're very proud of our Airmen who deploy," said Daniels. "This particular deployment was just one of many we do throughout the year."

The 161st Air Refueling Wing also deploys in support of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East; the U.S. Pacific Command; U.S. Strategic Command; NATO; and the Air Force's Air Mobility Command, refueling bombers, fighters and command and control aircraft.

The Air National Guard is a strategic operational piece of the total force, which includes active duty and Reserve units. Over 50 percent of the nation's KC-135 fleet belongs to the Air National Guard.

"When you get deployed, you see other aircraft on the ramp and a lot of them are Guard aircraft. From Maine to California, and from Florida to Washington State, there are National Guard KC-135s on the road 365 days a year," said Owen.

The average aircrew member at the 161st serves about 140 days on active duty per year - far more than the traditional "one weekend a month, two weeks a year." Nearly 20 percent of the total workforce at the 161st, or about 150 Airmen, deploy at least once annually. Many of these Airmen are traditional Guard members who integrate directly with the community in other careers.

"Most of the Airmen I deployed with are part time - they have full-time jobs away from the Guard," said Owen. "I want to extend my thanks to their employers who allow these Airmen to do this job."

Last year, the 161st delivered fuel to over 1,700 aircraft mid-air, supporting both training for joint and coalition air forces in the southwest, and during operational missions while deployed overseas.

The 161st also supports aeromedical evacuations, disaster relief and humanitarian efforts, and the delivery of cargo and personnel.