By Brian Livingston / email@example.com
The Meridian Star
A group of National Guard airmen and civilian contractors stood in the shade just inside the massive hanger doors of the 186th Air Refueling Wing Monday gazing at a sight some thought might not ever be seen at Key Field.
It was a big, gray KC-135 Stratotanker taxiing onto the main tarmac in front of the hanger. The four-engine bird represented the first of eight tankers slated to call Meridian their home.
"It is a little earlier than anticipated but that is OK with us," said Col. Franklin Chalk, commander of the 186th ARW. "We are scheduled to get another one here on the 24th and the rest should be here by September. This is a very good day at the 186th."
Six of the tankers, including the one that landed Monday, are coming to Meridian after serving with the 121st Air Refueling Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard. Chalk said it wasn't yet clear from which units the final two tankers would be coming.
As the converted Boeing 707 eased to a halt at its berthing station on the tarmac, airmen and other interested parties began to come out of the shade into the bright sunlight to view the tanker as the crew disembarked.
"We are overwhelmed to have them back," Sr.Mstr.Sgt. Tim Dean said. "I spent 20 years on these before I got an office job here on the base and I miss the flying."
Dean is the superintendent of production and will soon be superintendent of maintenance operations to ensure all the ground crews are up to speed on keeping the big gray birds in the air for their missions.
"We will have some training to do for the younger guys who have never been in a tanker," Dean said.
Chalk said a great deal of refresher courses will be scheduled as well for those more experienced air and ground crews. He said the tanker will act in part as a static classroom as airmen brush up on vital areas such as avionics, fabrication, engine operation, electrical and so on. It has been roughly two years since the tankers left Key Field for reassignment.
"This base was designed for the tanker missions and we have done a fine job in the past," said Chalk, who was aboard the first tanker to land at the base in the late 1990s. "The tankers will be here for the foreseeable future and we will make the most of it."
Chalk said a lot of the support equipment needed to maintain and service the tankers will be coming from the 121st ARW as well.
Chalk said the tankers bring with them much more than just a flying mission. They also bring more jobs.
"We are going to need more young, vibrant, and energetic men and women to help with the mission now," Chalk said. "I'm not quite sure yet of the total number of new positions that will become available but I do know there will be some good opportunities in the near future."
If interested in learning more about the Mississippi Air National Guard and the 186th Air Refueling Wing, call the local National Guard Recruiting station at 601-484-9213.