Tanker Task Force Keeps Northern Edge Flying
By 1st Lt. Candice Miller, USAF , Eielson Northern Edge Joint Information Bureau
/ Published June 14, 2006
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
If drivers could fill up the car with gas without stopping, imagine how efficient driving would be.
The monstrous Tanker Task Force (TTF) here provides efficient service to drivers in the air during Northern Edge, Alaska’s premier joint training exercise.
Seventeen tankers and 12 total force units from around the country refuel more than one hundred jets daily over Alaskan skies during the states largest military training exercise this year. Bringing gas to the air allows aircraft to continue the fight without landing.
Eielson’s 168th Air Refueling Wing is the task force’s lead unit. “This Tanker Task Force is really big…I mean, really big. The 168th is leading the Tanker Task Force through the exercise and doing a great job,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Sladko, Northern Edge Operations Officer.
“We get a chance to exercise on a large scale doing our real world mission at our home base.”
This is the largest Tanker Task Force in over ten years at Eielson AFB and the largest in any Northern Edge exercise, he said.
Northern Edge provides the TTF an opportunity to refuel many different types of aircraft from the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps demonstrating the military’s power projection capability.
“One of the most pleasing things is that I can’t tell the difference between active duty and guard units. I can’t even tell who is from what unit. It’s very seamless,” said Lt. Col. Sladko. “It doesn’t get anymore integrated then this. The crews are completely interchangeable.”
Maj. Mark Durley, 168th ARW KC-135 pilot, said tankers are doing double the refueling missions than a normal Red Flag Alaska exercise.
“There is traditionally between five to seven tankers with missions that last two to three hours. On average, Northern Edge missions are lasting five to six hours,” he said.
Mid-way through the exercise the TTF changed crews and aircraft. Chief Master Sgt. Barry Beck, 168th ARW Production Superintendent, said Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units often change crews during exercises to take advantage of the opportunity to provide training to more individuals and because of civilian deployment issues.
Maintenance issues, inspection requirements and aircraft washes also drive when and how long an aircraft will be able to fly, he said.
“When swap-outs do occur we try to make it appear as seamless as possible so as to not disrupt the tanker flow or not affect the training syllabus if at all possible,” said Chief Master Sgt. Beck.
Maj. Benjamin Baker, 168th ARW Maintenance Commander, said, “An exercise with this many participants further highlights the critical role that air refueling plays in the overall strategy of the U.S. Military.”
Maj. Baker said that air refueling provides “Force Extension,” which allows Air Force assets to remain airborne longer and travel further to accomplish the mission.
“Without this capability, our assets would be severely limited. The ability to provide air refueling is a huge advantage that other nations do not have,” he said.
Units participating in the Northern Edge TTF include:
168th ARW, Eielson AFB, Alaska
507th ARW, Tinker AFB, Okla.
940th ARW, Belle AFB, Calif.
305th AMW, McGuire AFB, N.J.
319th ARW, Grand Forks AFB, N.D.
151st ARW, Hill AFB, Utah
939th ARW, International Airport, Portland, Ore.
101st ARW, International Airport, Bangor, Maine
157th ARW, International Airport, Pease, N.H.
186th ARW, International Airport, Meridian, Miss.
107th ARW, Niagara Falls, N.Y.
927th ARW, Selfridge Field, Mich.