908th EARS four-man team delivers fuel to fight
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chris Whynott, a flight engineer with the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, performs pre-flight checks on a KC-10 Extender at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Feb. 24, 2012. The 908th EARS provides critical air refueling to aircraft in the area of responsibility, delivering more than one million gallons of fuel to the fight every day. In 2011, the 908th EARS offloaded more than 390 million pounds of fuel to more than 28,000 aircraft, and flew more than 36,700 hours in almost 4,600 missions. The average sortie length for a KC-10 mission in Southwest Asia is about eight hours.(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Greg C. Biondo)
by Staff Sgt. Sara Csurilla
U.S. Air Forces Central Public Affairs
3/1/2012 - SOUTHWEST ASIA -- What has eight legs, 90 years of experience and spends most of its time flying over Afghanistan waiting to give away 50,000 gallons of fuel?
No, it's not a really old, generous flying spider. It's a four-man KC-10 Extender team, from the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, flying air refueling missions that provide fuel to aircraft supporting troops on the ground in Afghanistan.
The four-man team consists of Lt. Col. Jeff Whiteman, Maj. Stephen Sila, Tech. Sgt. Chris Whynott, and Master Sgt. Dan Quasius.
All four are Reserve Airmen deployed to the 908th EARS from the 70th Air Refueling Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Calif.
Nearly every day, the team completes missions that have them in the air between seven to 14 hours, depending on the number of aircraft that need fuel, how much they have to give and the time between the aircraft that come for fuel.
Each person has a specific and vital role to fill during each mission.
Whiteman, a Louisville, Ky., native, is the aircraft commander, which means he is the lead pilot that flies the KC-10. He graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1992 and has served in the Air Force as a pilot ever since. When he's not flying aircraft for the Air Force, he is an assistant chief pilot for a civilian commercial airline.
Sila, as the co-pilot, helps the aircraft commander do everything he needs to do, including radio communications, track weather, navigational duties and land the aircraft. Sila has served in the Air Force for more than 24 years as both an officer and an enlisted Airman. As an enlisted Airman, he was an A-10 Thunderbolt II weapons loader, then a C-5 Galaxy loadmaster and then a KC-10 boom operator. He commissioned after 13 years and has been a KC-10 pilot for the past 11 years. He currently lives in Vacaville, Calif. and works as a first officer for a civilian commercial airline.
Whynott is the flight engineer, currently residing in Mesa, Ariz. His responsibilities include performing aircraft inspections, non-scheduled aircraft maintenance, tracking aircraft forms and records during flight and while the aircraft is away, among many other things. He has served in the Air Force for 20 years, first in aircraft maintenance and then as a flight engineer. He works as a captain for a civilian commercial airline, flying cargo in and out of the area of responsibility, supporting Operation Enduring Freedom out of uniform as well.
Quasius is the in-flight refueling technician, or boom operator. As the boom operator, it is his responsibility to direct receiver aircraft into an air refueling position and operate in-flight air refueling controls and switches to safely maintain contact between tanker and receiver aircraft. He has served in the Air Force for more than 32 years, has deployed more than 15 times and said he has some great stories to tell from all his years. He's a native of Sacramento, Calif. and works as a physical therapist when he's not flying in a KC-10.
These four deployed together; now they live together, eat together, exercise together, work and play together, they even have nicknames for each other. On their down time, they're usually seen in a group either coming from the gym, watching boxing or playing games like Bingo and poker.
Whynott said he really enjoys the mission they are doing out here, providing fuel for the troops on the ground, but his favorite aspect of the deployment is the crew he's with.
"We have such a great group," he said. "It makes life a whole lot easier when we work so well together."
During any given mission, they offload fuel to all types of aircraft such as to A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, Marine Corps AV-8B Harriers and F-16 Fighting Falcons. They also receive fuel from KC-135 Stratotankers and other KC-10s.
Between the four of them, they have more than 90 years experience doing their jobs. It's teams like these that make up the 908th EARS, a squadron that delivers more than one million gallons of fuel in support of Operation Enduring Freedom every day.
"In 2011, the 908th EARS offloaded more than 390 million pounds of fuel to more than 28,000 airplanes and flew more than 36,700 hours in almost 4,600 missions," said Lt. Col. Kenneth Moss, the 908th commander. "In the last year, my unit provided about one-third of the airborne fuel used to protect our ground troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, allowing us to support 1,643 troops-in-contact events, 1,488 shows-of-force, 1,445 strikes and 2,555 priority events. Broken out another way, the 908th EARS provided critical air refueling to support four-and-a-half TICs, four SOFs, four strikes and seven priority events every day."
It is the 908th EARS mission to bring fuel to the fight, and without crews like Whiteman's, aircraft would be forced to land to refuel, which would cause U.S. service members and coalition forces on the ground to suffer due to lack of air support.
This four-man team makes sure they have a good time while they are deployed, but even between the comedic banter, they know the importance of what they do and share in their appreciation for the mission.
"I've gotten a real sense of accomplishment on this deployment," said Sila. "We help get the mission done by using our experience to bring gas to the front doorstep in an efficient and professional manner. The more fuel we can squeeze out of our airplane has a direct impact on saving lives of our Soldiers on the ground."