It's been years since the first time I was "the flag outside the plane." I finally got to fly and hang out with them!!!!
Every summer we get excited in July to see what our custodians have in mind for EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh. Flag Sr. and I had been home all summer, going to air shows and meeting new friends. Jr. and Missy just made it home before EAA started.
The week before EAA was set to start I found myself in the car driving to Milwaukee. My custodian has been friends for years with someone who serves on the KC-135. He's one of the people who uses the boom to fill other airplanes while they are flying. The 128th Air Refueling Wing is a unit of the Wisconsin Air National Guard. It sounds like they do lots and lots of flying all over the world.
I at first thought that they just refueled air planes in Wisconsin, since they were Wisconsin Air National Guard, but no way. These planes and soldiers have been all over from Afghanistan to Italy to Hawaii to Japan. I'd say that pretty much takes care of all over the world. You can imagine how excited I was to learn I was getting to fly with them when they came to Oshkosh for EAA 2022. It really has been the summer of the Woman Pilot. When we came to Oshkosh, the pilot was a woman, just like the F-16 and the F-35 earlier in the summer. Maybe I'll ask if I can get flying lessons.
It was really interesting listening to the different members talk about planes they had refueled and different roads they had travelled to get to where they were. The National Guard isn't exactly the same as enlisting in the Air Force or the Army or Navy or the Coast Guard. You still live at home and lots of times people do it part time while they do their other job as well. Some people, like most of those I met, are full time National Guard. They are all super dedicated.
Before we left Milwaukee one of the crew decided to take me around and introduce me to a bunch of aircraft that were on the ground at Mitchell Field in Milwaukee. There was an air show in Milwaukee that week and there were lots of planes there that normally weren't. We had so much fun taking pictures.
While I was waiting to be picked up the first day of EAA I had a chance to listen to people touring the KC-135. They asked some really great questions. One thing everyone commented on was how clean and shiny the plane was. Apparently with Air National Guard planes, a specific crew is assigned to each plane and it is "their" plane to take care of. I heard that some plane had had the same crew for over twenty years. Boy, I can see how they really take ownership and make sure the plane looks wonderful. In the regular Air Force, the plane belongs to the air base and the maintenance crew belongs to the air base so the crews work on whatever plane is there needing cleaning and maintenance. The planes are still well taken care of, but there sometimes isn't the same kind of attention to detail as on the Air National Guard planes. You can certainly tell just by looking around that plane that is has been well taken care of.
One thing I learned listening to the crew is that they absolutely love their jobs whether they are pilots or boom operators or support crew. It didn't matter. They all loved being part of the mission. I was interested to listen to one of the boom operators talk about talking to the pilots while they are refueling them. I'd kind of thought it would be real automatic and kind of "no talking, we're both busy" kind of thing. But I heard him talking about refueling A-10s in Afghanistan where there would be two planes out supporting the ground troops and one would stay near the ground while the other came up to refuel and then go back down and then the other would come up, always leaving one near the ground in case they were needed. He called it Yo-Yo refueling. He also talked about often times the pilots had just completed a mission or had an interaction with hostile forces. I could tell that the person doing the refueling could be really important to the pilot who was still super energized because of having been in combat. Sounded like an awesome responsibility taking care of the plane and the pilot at the same time. I can really see why they love their job.
Now I hear that we're working on doing a face to face refueling with me in the KC-135 right where they are doing a refueling and Sr. in one of the F-16s that are another part of the Wisconsin Air National Guard and stationed in Madison. So, stay tuned for more details and stories.
Governor Scott Walker with Air National Guard troops at Airventure 2018.