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Giving wings to the hard-working Airmen

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Noah Tancer
  • 378 Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Like the twigs and foliage in a bird’s nest, each Airman in their respective career field, hold the base together and cradle the 378th Air Expeditionary Wing’s mission in a complex system of support, that can best be seen through the birds-eye view of an aircraft or felt by the sturdy branches of leadership.

Award winners, superior performers and leadership assigned to the 378th AEW took to the skies on April 27, in a KC-10 Extender aircraft, assigned to the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron. Climbing high and far away from Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, the mission was a simple one, to give wings to the hard-working Airmen and show them what the bird they were on could do.

“The purpose of the orientation flight program is to expose members of our wing to our flying mission that normally do not have an opportunity to see it up close,” said Brig. Gen. Robert Davis, commander of the 378th AEW. “It’s also a way for unit commanders to reward many of their superior performers and award winners.”

It might seem counterintuitive to some, but terms like "Airmen" or "Air Force" when connected to a member of the United States armed forces, doesn't necessarily mean they have direct interaction with Department of Defense aerial assets. Like when a bird doesn’t take its nest with it when it flies, most Airmen stay rooted to the ground holding the mission together.

So when Air Force careers like food services, operation management, contracting officer, staff administrator, or even other careers that work and talk closely with the aircraft like a crew chief, airfield manager and air traffic controller, get their chance to fly, it can be a really big deal. Most of them have probably never even seen the inside of a KC-10 let alone flown in one.

“I loved it, I loved it,” said Master Sgt. Carlos Santiago, an air traffic controller with 378th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron. “I thought it was super good because when you’re in the back, you’re getting to watch the whole thing and seeing the fighter [jet] come up. I mean it was a really awesome experience.”

The KC-10 Extender is an Air Mobility Command advanced tanker and cargo aircraft designed to provide increased global mobility for U.S. armed forces. Its primary mission is aerial refueling, but it can combine the tasks of a tanker and cargo aircraft by refueling fighters and simultaneously carrying the fighter support personnel and equipment to, for example, the Air Force Central Command’s area of operations.

But most Airmen are only told about their base’s air capabilities, largely due to the logistical process of getting approved to be on an operational mission. One can’t just get on the plane, especially a combat sortie in a deployed location, they have to earn it.

“It’s important for winning teams to reward excellence and connect their members to the organization’s purpose, or ‘Why,’” said Davis. “The orientation flight program does both by allowing superior performers an opportunity to fly on one of our aircraft while exposing them to our fundamental purpose – airpower.”

Though deployed locations are growing every day in their capabilities of supporting and sustaining modern-day amenities and luxuries for the mental, physical and spiritual health of the Airmen, they are still deployed locations. Workdays are often long, privacy and personal space are limited, and it can be easy to get tunnel-vision while doing the same job every day. For many Airmen, it can be a morale boost to be able to switch lanes in the tunnel and take flight on the runway.

“It was great to get a different perspective,” said Master Sgt. Ralph Ruiz, an airfield manager with the 378th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron. “To end my tour here by being able to fly, land and see from a different perspective what we’re bringing to the fight, just gave me a good ending to these long six months. And hearing our air traffic controllers talking over the radios so perfectly and professionally too.”

It is the Airman’s responsibility to complete the mission but it’s the leadership’s job to support them in doing so, and remind them in ever-innovative ways that the Air Force is “one team, one fight,” and what they do matters.

“Every member of the 378th AEW is necessary to generate and employ Airpower throughout the USCENTCOM area of operation,” said Davis. “Every function in our Wing can be connected to generating, sustaining and projecting Airpower, or taking care of the Airmen that do so.”