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Utah Air National Guard fuels fight in Afghanistan

MANAS AIR BASE, Kyrgyz Republic -- Master Sgt. Clint Hutchings, a maintainer from the 376th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Manas Air Base, Kyrgyz Republic, salutes after marshalling out one of four KC-135 Stratotankers deployed from the Utah Air National Guard's 151st Air Refueling Wing, for a refueling mission in support of operations in Afghanistan, July 7. (Air Force photo / Airman 1st Class Ruth Holcomb)

MANAS AIR BASE, Kyrgyz Republic -- Master Sgt. Clint Hutchings, a maintainer from the 376th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Manas Air Base, Kyrgyz Republic, salutes after marshalling out one of four KC-135 Stratotankers deployed from the Utah Air National Guard's 151st Air Refueling Wing, for a refueling mission in support of operations in Afghanistan, July 7. (Air Force photo / Airman 1st Class Ruth Holcomb)

MANAS AIR BASE, Kyrgyz Republic -- Tech. Sgt. Justin Frasche, a KC-135 maintainer deployed from the Utah Air National Guard's 151st Air Refueling Wing, stands by as his Stratotanker is refueled following a mission in support of operations over Afghanistan, July 2. Sergeant Frasche and more than 130 Guardsmen deployed to Manas Air Base, Kyrgyz Republic, in late June. They are scheduled to return to their Salt Lake City unit in early August. (Air Force photo / Maj. Damien Pickart)

MANAS AIR BASE, Kyrgyz Republic -- Tech. Sgt. Justin Frasche, a KC-135 maintainer deployed from the Utah Air National Guard's 151st Air Refueling Wing, stands by as his Stratotanker is refueled following a mission in support of operations over Afghanistan, July 2. Sergeant Frasche and more than 130 Guardsmen deployed to Manas Air Base, Kyrgyz Republic, in late June. They are scheduled to return to their Salt Lake City unit in early August. (Air Force photo / Maj. Damien Pickart)

MANAS AIR BASE, Kyrgyz Republic - Master Sgt. Michael Clough, the independent duty medical technician from the 376th Expeditionary Medical Group, draws a blood sample from Master Sgt. Britian Yucum, 376th Expeditionary Medical Group, July 10. Sergeant Clough is deployed here from the Utah Air National Guard's 191st Air Refueling Squadron, based out of Salt Lake City International Airport. (U.S. Air Force photo / Airman 1st Class Ruth Holcomb) The message is ready to be sent with the following file or link attachments:

MANAS AIR BASE, Kyrgyz Republic - Master Sgt. Michael Clough, the independent duty medical technician from the 376th Expeditionary Medical Group, draws a blood sample from Master Sgt. Britian Yucum, 376th Expeditionary Medical Group, July 10. Sergeant Clough is deployed here from the Utah Air National Guard's 191st Air Refueling Squadron, based out of Salt Lake City International Airport. (U.S. Air Force photo / Airman 1st Class Ruth Holcomb) The message is ready to be sent with the following file or link attachments:

MANAS AIR BASE, Kygryz Republic-- Master Sgt. Clint Hutchings, a maintainer from the 376th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Manas Air Base, Kyrgyz Republic, taxis out a C-17 Globemaster as it departs for a mission in support of operations in Afghanistan, July 7.  (U.S. Air Force photo / Airman 1st Class Ruth Holcomb)

MANAS AIR BASE, Kygryz Republic-- Master Sgt. Clint Hutchings, a maintainer from the 376th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Manas Air Base, Kyrgyz Republic, taxis out a C-17 Globemaster as it departs for a mission in support of operations in Afghanistan, July 7. (U.S. Air Force photo / Airman 1st Class Ruth Holcomb)

MANAS AIR BASE, KYRGYZ REPUBLIC -- Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Metzger, 376th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, replaces a lighting transformer on a KC-135 here, July 23. The KC-135 Stratotanker provides the core aerial refueling capability for the United States Air Force and has excelled in this role for more than 50 years. (U.S. Air Force photo / Airman 1st Class Ruth Holcomb)

MANAS AIR BASE, KYRGYZ REPUBLIC -- Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Metzger, 376th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, replaces a lighting transformer on a KC-135 here, July 23. The KC-135 Stratotanker provides the core aerial refueling capability for the United States Air Force and has excelled in this role for more than 50 years. (U.S. Air Force photo / Airman 1st Class Ruth Holcomb)

MANAS AIR BASE, Kyrgyz Republic -- Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Metzger, 376th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, replaces a lighting transformer on a KC-135 during routine maintenance operations. Maintainers, aircrew and support personnel from the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing helped Manas bust through the million pound mark July 17, when the wing's KC-135s offloaded 1.01 million pounds of fuel to an array of aircraft supporting combat operations over Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo / Airman 1st Class Ruth Holcomb)

MANAS AIR BASE, Kyrgyz Republic -- Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Metzger, 376th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, replaces a lighting transformer on a KC-135 during routine maintenance operations. Maintainers, aircrew and support personnel from the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing helped Manas bust through the million pound mark July 17, when the wing's KC-135s offloaded 1.01 million pounds of fuel to an array of aircraft supporting combat operations over Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo / Airman 1st Class Ruth Holcomb)

A KC-135R Stratotanker touches down at Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan, July 1, after returning from a refueling mission over the skies of Afghanistan. Manas AB is the premier air mobility hub supporting Coalition military operations in Afghanistan. The wing's mission includes aerial refueling, strategic airlift operations, combat airlift and airdrop, as well as aeromedical evacuation support when needed. Coalition aircraft supporting the mission include U.S. KC-135s, Spanish C-130s, and French C-135FRs. (photo by Maj. Damien Pickart, 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs)

A KC-135R Stratotanker touches down at Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan, July 1, after returning from a refueling mission over the skies of Afghanistan. Manas AB is the premier air mobility hub supporting Coalition military operations in Afghanistan. The wing's mission includes aerial refueling, strategic airlift operations, combat airlift and airdrop, as well as aeromedical evacuation support when needed. Coalition aircraft supporting the mission include U.S. KC-135s, Spanish C-130s, and French C-135FRs. (photo by Maj. Damien Pickart, 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs)

MANAS AIR BASE, Kyrgyz Republic --Lt. Col. Neal Wayment, 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron Director of Operations, discusses daily flying operations July 12 with Col. Randy Ogden, 376th Expeditionary Operations Group commander. Colonel Wayment, the 151st Air Refueling Wing's Operations Support Flight commander, is deployed to Manas Air Base, Kyrgyz Republic, with more than 130 other Guardsmen from the Salt Lake City Air National Guard unit. Four of the 151st ARW's KC-135 Stratotankers are providing refueling support for military operations in Afghanistan.  (Air Force photo / Maj. Damien Pickart)

MANAS AIR BASE, Kyrgyz Republic --Lt. Col. Neal Wayment, 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron Director of Operations, discusses daily flying operations July 12 with Col. Randy Ogden, 376th Expeditionary Operations Group commander. Colonel Wayment, the 151st Air Refueling Wing's Operations Support Flight commander, is deployed to Manas Air Base, Kyrgyz Republic, with more than 130 other Guardsmen from the Salt Lake City Air National Guard unit. Four of the 151st ARW's KC-135 Stratotankers are providing refueling support for military operations in Afghanistan. (Air Force photo / Maj. Damien Pickart)

MANAS AB, KYRGYZ REPUBLIC -- The four blue-tailed KC-135 Stratotankers of the Utah Air National Guard's 151st Air Refueling Wing have been a scarce sight on the tarmac at Manas Air Base since deploying here in late June.

Instead, they've spent much of the last few weeks of their first deployment to the Kyrgyz Republic airborne helping the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing keep life saving fuel in the skies over Afghanistan.

More than 130 Guardsmen, based out of Salt Lake City's International Airport, have directly contributed to Manas AB twice breaking its single day fuel offload record and number of aircraft launched. All four 151st ARW KC-135s flew July 8, when the wing launched a total of 15 aircraft and offloaded 975,000 pounds of fuel to a variety of Coalition aircraft operating in the skies over Afghanistan.

"It's incredibly rewarding to contribute to the mission here," said Chief Master Sgt. Joe Mace, the 151st ARW's In-Flight Refueling Program Manager or "Chief Boom." "There's a lot of pride in the face of our Guardsmen knowing that their sweat and effort is having a tangible impact for the troops on the ground," said the Chief, who serves as the 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron first sergeant while here.

Within four hours of arriving June 25, the 151st ARW's first KC-135 on the ground was back in the air carry out the wing's first combat refueling mission over the battlefields of Afghanistan. For some of the Utah Guardsmen, there is a personal element to these missions.

"I'm here to support my little brother," said Lt. Col. Neal Wayment, the 151st Operations Support Flight commander, now serving as the 22nd EARS Director of Operations until August.

A KC-135 pilot on his first deployment to Manas AB, Colonel Wayment is one of three brothers from the same family currently serving in the Armed Forces. The colonel's younger brother, an Army command sergeant major currently serving in Afghanistan, has seen numerous combat engagements, which often rely on air support to affect the outcome. Many combat aircraft operating over Afghanistan rely on tanker support to reach the far flung battlefields and allow enough loiter time to support ground operations.

"My first refueling mission took us over Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan," said Colonel Wayment. "I realized my little brother was down below and it dawned on me that what I was doing might mean all the difference to him and the Soldiers in his unit. That just reinforced why I volunteered to be here."

The 151st ARW is the second ANG tanker unit to deploy to Manas AB, following in the successful footsteps of the 185th ARW from Sioux City, Iowa. The 1,000 Airmen serving at Manas AB epitomize the Total Force concept, in which expeditionary combat wings are comprised of a mixture of Active Duty, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard Airmen, as well as government civilians and contractors.

Many of the Salt Lake City Airmen on this deployment bring to the mission diverse military backgrounds and the maturity necessary to function in a flexible and dynamic expeditionary environment. KC-135 maintainer Tech. Sgt. Steve Martin is just a snapshot of these diverse demographics. His military experience started in the Active Duty Navy aboard a destroyer in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. He has since served in the Army National Guard, followed by 10 years with the 151st ARW as a traditional Guardsman.

"My past service with the Navy and Army has helped me adjust quickly in challenging situations," said Sergeant Martin, who is also a full time Utah State Trooper. "The long days here might be tough for some to adjust to, but I really enjoy the high operations tempo."

With another three weeks remaining in their deployment, the Salt Lake City Guardsmen have adjusted well to life in a deployed setting and are making the most of their time at Manas AB. On top of 12+ hour shifts, many have penciled in time to get off base and volunteer at local orphanages and hospitals and to assist with a variety of community improvement projects.

"The base really takes good care of its Airmen and does a lot to cultivate friendships with the local Kyrgyz residents," said 2nd Lt. Christopher Foote, a KC-135 maintenance officer and 16-year veteran of the 151st ARW. "For many of my Airmen, this is their first deployment ever and they really feel as if they're contributing to the mission in Afghanistan and still finding some time to help the people of Kyrgyzstan."

Inside a two story building in the heart of Manas AB's "Ops Town," Maj. Casey Knowlton manages a blur of controlled activity amid ringing phones and radio chatter. When the Utah Guardsman isn't flying missions, he's manning the communications nerve center that tracks daily refueling operations for the 22nd EARS.

"The mission here is awesome," said Major Knowlton. "On my last flight, we refueled A-10s from the Idaho ANG. These are the very same guys we refuel back home everyday on training missions - only now we were doing in combat what we trained to do. It was incredible to watch them fuel up, break off and strafe enemy positions in the mountains just below us before returning back to our boom to repeat the process. It feels good to directly contribute to lives saved on the ground."

Not far from Ops Town, a tally board on a wall inside the main aircraft maintenance unit facility tracks the previous day's "TICs" or "troops in contact." When troops are in contact for the enemy, air support is often requested, which means tankers at Manas AB and other locations must get airborne to bring fuel to the fight. To many of the Utah ANG maintainers and Airmen deployed here, the daily tally board represents a long chain of events that starts with their efforts on the hot concrete tarmac in the Kyrgyz Republic.

"When we see the TICs on the wall, we know the fuel from our tankers helped put air support overhead to keep our guys safe," said Staff Sgt. Jason Meyerhoff, a KC-135 maintainer with nearly 13 years experience in the Army before joining the 151st ARW. "It really lets us know that what we do everyday really matters."