A Chapter in the Life of a Veteran KC-135

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Vince De Groot
  • 185ARW PA
If you have fond memories of a beloved old car and wish you still owned it, you may be able to understand the relationship Master Sgt. Dave Brink, a KC-135 crew chief had with his airplane. You may also understand his heartache when his airplane was reassigned to a different unit in June as part of the recent Defense Appropriations budget cuts.

"It's like seeing someone else date your old girlfriend and you didn't cause the break up," said Brink.

While technically it is not his airplane, crew chiefs like Brink become so involved with their assigned aircraft, they can get a little defensive when it comes to the care and treatment of their tail number.

Master Sgt. Dave Brink and Technical Sgt. Dave Henson are both full time crew chiefs at the 185th Air Refueling Wing, Iowa Air National Guard in Sioux City, Iowa. Both Brink and Henson were assigned to "three-sixteen"- a veiled reference to tail number 60-0316, a 53 year old KC-135R aerial refueling aircraft assigned to their care. The aircraft, a variant of the Boeing 707, was reassigned to the Utah Air National Guard.

Air National Guard crew chiefs sometimes have the unique privilege of crewing aircraft for long periods of time - even up to a decade or more. As the crew chiefs assigned to this particular tail number, Brink and Henson claimed the aircraft as their own.

"We know everything about the aircraft our names are on the side of it" said Henson.

So when an unaware passenger, or even an aircrew member, stomps onto the airplane with dirty boots they may receive the same reception your mother gave you when you walked into her kitchen with dirty boots. While visitors are always welcome, according to Brink this is "his house" and he would appreciate it if you didn't mess it up.

As soon as a visitor stepped onto the aircraft, they could see the pride that Brink and Henson take in their plane in how well it is cared for.

"We're on it every day, were keeping up on the maintenance, if there is one little thing wrong with it we know about it and we fix it," said Henson.

On closer inspection, a visitor would have discovered the personal touches inside the mature aerial refueling aircraft. Being an Oakland Raiders fan it was Henson that dubbed the aircraft "Raider Nation" which is why air crew found a Raiders sticker prominently displayed in the cockpit above the Navigators table. At the same time, not wanting to forget his Iowa roots, passengers also saw an eclectic array of University of Iowa "Hawkeye" stickers both inside and outside the airplane.

When it is time for a member of the active duty to move to a new location it is called a "permanent change of station" or PCS move. After only six short years the KC-135 (Raider Nation) PCS-ed - the term "permanent" is somewhat relative. For Raider Nation, Brink, and Henson it was a relatively short lived relationship and it's not the first time the aircraft has changed hands. Before coming to Sioux City, the aircraft was received from the Washington Air National Guard based at Fairchild Air Force base near Spokane, WA in September of 2007.

Both 20 year veterans, Brink and Henson were by no means the first crew chiefs of this aircraft and both expect, even at the age of 53, the airplane will far outlive their military careers.

"It is old, reliable, equipment" said Henson with the emphasis on reliable.

Henson was very proud to add that last year his airplane was the 2012 High flyer for the wing. While many factors can go into calculating the high flyer, the honor is at least partially due to high "Fully Mission Capable" rates; these rates are a result of the crew chiefs keeping the aircraft operational and ready to fly.

Sorting out the meaning and motivations of defense spending can be a difficult task. The reality of Defense Appropriations and how it relates to the Iowa Air Guard's 185th Air Refueling Wing is abundantly clear; Sioux City has one less KC-135 on the ramp. The good news in all of this is that the Air Refueling Wing in Sioux City retained the crew that was assigned to the departing aircraft.

Although "Raider Nation" will have a new home, the Air National Guard will retain a well maintained KC-135. The crew assigned to "Raider Nation" will all continue to work as crew chiefs on other aircraft and will no doubt continue to pour their heart and soul into their next airplane.

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