Commuting to war

McGUIRE AIR FORCE BASE, N.J. -- Right now, 35,000 feet above the cold and treacherous North Atlantic, two hours from the nearest runway, 28 McGuire Airmen are commuting to war. Eight KC-10 aircrew members from the 2nd and 32nd Air Refueling Squadrons, and 20 KC-10 maintainers from the 605th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron are four hours into a 13-and-a-half hour flight from the verdant cornfields and cran¬berry bogs of New Jersey, to the gritty, windblown deserts surrounding the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing in the Southwest Asia area of responsibility. 

Just another day on the job for the men and women of the KC-10 operations and maintenance team as they leave behind the comforts of home-station en route to the largest KC-10 operating location outside of the United States. And, they've been doing it nearly 18 straight years. 

The scene is repeated nearly every week; McGuire and Travis Air Force Base, Calif., KC-10s and their ops and maintenance crews rotating into and out of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing -- new airmen and lieutenants on their first deployments, and seasoned non-commissioned officers and field graders on their sixth or seventh, or tenth. 

Several KC-10 aircrew members long ago surpassed the 1,000 combat flight hour milestone, while individual crewmembers regularly pass the 100 total combat sorties mark. 

The average Southwest Asia rotation for KC-10 aircrew lasts 60 to 70 days. It'd be longer except that crews need to return to McGuire to accomplish mandatory periodic training requirements, while many of the crews also reach Air Force-established maximum flying hours because of the high-ops tempo supporting Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom from their AOR operating loca¬tion. The majority of 2 and 32 ARS crews will complete at least two and sometimes three deployments per year, every year. 

Added to anywhere from 60 to 100 days of TDY for other worldwide mobility missions, many KC-10 aircrew are away from home 180-200 or more days per year, every year. Some flying crew chiefs don't even unpack their bags, for within a day or two of returning from one multi-week mission, they're back in the air on another. 

With 54 percent of the Air Force's entire KC-10 fleet permanently based at McGuire, the 305th and 514th Air Mobility Wings' contributions to the Global War on Terrorism, and overall national security, are significant and amazing. Carrying as much cargo as a C-17, or as much fuel as five average tanker trucks, KC-10s are "haulin' the pax and trash, and passin' the gas" that keep our nation's combat, humanitarian relief, and worldwide mobility missions moving. 

It takes the entire 305 and 514 AMW teams, from a broad swath of career fields and unit missions, to keep the planes in the air. I'm extraordinarily grateful and inspired at the magnitude of the efforts exerted by Team McGuire Airmen who have worked so hard to enable the base's KC-10s to make the commute to war seem so common and easy. But, I know it's not easy, nor common. 

We absolutely must not forget that we are a nation at war, and McGuire Airmen directly operate in, and/or support the OEF and OIF theaters of operation. 

To the men and women who support the base's aircraft and crews by guarding the installation entry points, filing medical records, serving meals, keeping the power on, or working personnel and finance actions: thank you. Your work helps keep combat mobility power in the air. 

To the 305th Security Forces Squadron Airmen patrolling through the streets in Iraq, the 305th Logistics Readiness Squadron drivers leading convoys amidst IEDs, the 6th Airlift Squadron crews returning wounded warriors from the front lines to advanced medical care facilities, and to the 28 KC-10 aircrew and maintainers over the North Atlantic en route to the AOR to fly combat missions over Iraq and Afghanistan: thank you. Godspeed, and come home safely.