185th returns from Al Udeid In-air refueling integral to Operation Inherent Resolve

  • Published
  • By SSgt David Asbra
  • 185th ARW
In February, Airmen left their civilian jobs behind, said goodbye to their families and loved ones, loaded KC-135 Stratotankers with gear and equipment and within 72-hours were supporting Operation Inherent Resolve in the Middle East. The 185th Air Refueling Wing is very accustomed to it members being deployed, they have been deploying almost continuously over the last decade. Although most of the deployed Airmen return from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar this weekend, a break in the unit's deployments is not coming any time soon.

Throughout the deployment period 129 Airmen from the 185th ARW deployed to Al Udeid Air Base. The Airmen and as many as five KC-135 Stratotankers from Sioux City, more than half the unit's aircraft, have been assigned to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron (EARS) in Qatar.

The Iowa Air National Guard's 185th ARW, were flying combat missions providing vital mid-air refueling to U.S. and Coalition aircraft over Iraq and Syria as a part of the 340th EARS. The historic air refueling operation is the largest squadron in military history, with more than 40 tankers at any given time, available to run 24-hour in-air refueling missions, according to U.S. Air Force Central Command Public Affairs.

The 185th home base at the Sioux Gateway Airport is a regional commercial airport, however according to Col. Lawrence Christensen, Wing Commander of the 185th Air Refueling Wing, some people might be surprised to learn that the unit regularly uses it to fly to locations around the world.

"Not a lot of people think of Sioux Gateway Airport or Colonel Bud Day Field as an international airport, but we fly internationally all the time. So, it's not uncommon that we'll have aircraft overseas on a daily basis." Said Christensen. "When we deploy to Al Udeid, we take off from Sioux City then fly to Europe, we refuel and spend the night and then they'll fly from there into Al Udeid, Qatar."

According to Christensen, the 72-hour time frame when 185th members depart the Sioux City airport then start flying missions is short.

"It happens pretty quick...from the time they land, they're probably going to be flying combat mission within a day or two."

Christensen went on to explain that the quick turnaround is due in part because of the crucial nature of the air refueling mission.

"Pretty much anything the Air Force does today requires air refueling. Because of the distance they travel and the amount of fuel that they need. If they don't have a tanker it usually can't be done." Christensen added.

Because most KC-135 Stratotankers are flown by the Air National Guard, several tanker units will deploy together to Al Udeid, all with their own crew and planes.

While in Al Udeid the 185th ARW deployed in coordination with four tanker units from the Air National Guard. The 101st ARW Bangor, Maine; 154th ARW Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii; 117th ARW Birmingham, Ala.; and the 155th ARW Lincoln, Neb. all deployed together, with the 185th.

As part of the 340th EARS, 185th planes and crew flew missions in direct support of coalition military attacks against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq, according to Central Command Public Affairs.

A veteran pilot, Col. Christensen says that though the 185th ARW is a guard unit, their planes rarely sit idle.

"They're very high value assets that get used a lot, so were flying constantly. We refuel, whether it's here in the U.S. or overseas, we do it a lot and we're very good at it." said Christensen.

While Air National Guard units, like the 185th ARW, have evolved over the years into more "Operational" units according to Christensen, they still have differences from the Active Duty Air Force and face challenges unique to the Air National Guard.

"An Active Duty unit is going to have all full-time people. So they can pick and choose whoever they want to send on deployments, where in an Air National Guard unit two thirds of our people are traditional drill status guardsmen, or part time members. In other words they have jobs within the community." says Christensen. "It's not just the full time people here in the Air National Guard that are doing these missions, most of them are done by traditional or part time members of the Guard."

The mission of the 185th ARW is crucial, and one that Airmen of the unit know is important to the success of the Air Force, Christensen explained.

"They sacrifice a lot to continue to do this, but that's just the type of people we are. The Midwest work ethic is very evident in our members here at 185th, and they sacrifice a lot to make sure the country stays safe."

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