Rickenbacker-based mission fuels the skies for the military worldwide
It's a gas station in the sky and so much more. Welcome to the 121st Air Refueling Wing.
“We’re an operational force that is involved in the war fight every day,” said Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr., Assistant Adjutant General Ohio Army National Guard.
Made up of 1100 members and 12 aircraft, the 121st Air Refueling Wing continues to play a major role in U.S. military operations. This squadron has flown 90,000 hours since 9/11.
“We here at the 121st are probably one of the busiest units in the entire country,” said MSgt David Sorrell, Boom Operator.
It’s a global mission, based right in our backyard at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base. This team is responsible for transporting fuel, cargo, people, disaster relief and a variety of aid. The KC-135, flown by the 121st, can even be transformed into a hospital.
“Evacuations to global reach in moving transports, to refueling fighters and bombers and moving airplanes all around the world,” said Col. Mark D. Auer, Commander of the 121st Air Refueling Wing.
The members of the 121st brought us along for a refueling mission, flying over Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. A C-17 from Charleston, South Carolina met up with the 121st at an altitude of 21,000 feet, ready for a refueling.
It’s a delicate dance between two huge aircraft, coordinated by the Boom Operator. On this mission, MSgt David Sorrell performs the task. It happens in the boom pod, which requires him to lie on his belly in the back of the KC-135, using hand controls to connect to the C-17.
“I coordinate with the pilots up front,” said MSgt Sorrell, describing his job. “I’m also talking to the receiver in the back. And then I’m letting the pilots know what the receiver is doing because they can’t see back there, so they know what’s going on.”
The KC-135 unloads 6800 pounds of fuel per minute, refueling a variety of aircraft across the world.
“I always say I got the best view out my office window than anyone in the world,” said MSgt Sorrell.
Each member of the 121st proudly represents the Buckeye State wherever they go. And when they encounter military members from that state up north, the rivalry is just as strong in the air, as it is on the ground.
“’Oh sorry, sir, we’re having problems’,” said MSgt Ryan Dunn, a boom operator with the 121st, joking about their interactions. ’I don’t know if we’re going to be able to give you gas today, unless we get a good ole O-H-I-O out of ya’.”
It’s all in good fun. But this team is truly Buckeye proud.
With the refueling mission complete on this day, the members of the 121st head home to Rickenbacker, ready for the next mission.
“We always say that the sun never sets on the 121st,” said Col. Auer.