The Importance of Counting Tankers

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
Where are they today?

I ask that question every workday at about 20 minutes after 6 in the morning. For some, perhaps, the fact that the highlight of my workday comes so early in the morning could be viewed as a negative, but for me, that simple question can keep me going all day - Where are they today?

The "they" in question are the KC-135 Stratotankers flown by the 171st Air Refueling Squadron and supported by all of us - some more directly than others, to be sure, but still, by all of us in some way - in the 127th Wing at Selfridge Air National Guard Base.

There are eight KC-135s assigned to our Wing. Every morning, as I drive in to work, coming through the back gate and heading toward Building 303, turning left on George Avenue, I look over toward the flight line and I count. Some days a half dozen are there. Other days one or two. Periodically, it is none. And then I wonder: "Where are they today?"

I am not an aircraft maintainer, but I've been around long enough to know that on any given day, at least one of the tankers is in the hangar for routine maintenance of one kind or another and, as likely as not, one is away at the depot for a scheduled overhaul. So that leaves six. And today, there are four birds on the line. Maybe tomorrow it will be three. Or two. Or five. Where are they today?

One of the best things about being a public affairs specialist in the Michigan Air National Guard is being able to have such a broad overview of what's going on around the Wing. I've always been more interested in the big picture than the nitty-gritty details. That's just how I am wired. Sometimes, when I give a public affairs briefing to my fellow Wing members, I explain my job this way: "There are almost 1,700 people doing interesting things around this Wing. And I tell their stories, one at a time."

So, sometimes I'm "in the know" when one of our KC-135s heads off to Central Command somewhere. Or to the Pacific Command region. Sometimes. But mostly not.

Mostly I drive in to work in the morning, look over to my left, count the birds and then I wonder. Where are they today? What are they doing?

The KC-135 is a large, air-to-air refueling aircraft. It is specifically designed to put the "global" into the Air Force's mission to project global air power. Sometimes, the aircraft are re-configured to shuttle wounded or sick military personnel from one location to another, a sort of flying ambulance, if you will.

Not every mission is a world-changer. I've long since figured that out. But some days, some missions are in fact just that. Sometimes, they are world-changers for just one person. And that's enough. Strange how often you don't really know which missions those will be until afterwards, if at all.

I can't wait to get to work tomorrow. I'm going to count how many tankers are at my base.