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Civilian employers treated to ride on Reserve refueler

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Erin Smith
  • 624th RSG Public Affairs
Fourteen civilian employers of 624th Regional Support Group members became part of a total force operation Saturday when they boarded a KC-135 Stratotanker and headed out on a refueling mission Saturday Nov. 7. 

During the mission, a Reserve aircraft refueled six Hawaii Air National Guard F-15 Eagles while their active duty counterparts provided ground support and security on the flightline. The flight was part of an effort to educate the employers on what their Reservists do when they aren't at their civilian jobs. 

Prior to the flight, the employers received a 624th RSG mission briefing from Col. Robert "Randy" Huston, 624th RSG commander. Hawaii-based representatives of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve presented each employer with a Patriot Award, which is to recognize civilian employers who go above and beyond supporting their employee in times of mobilization, thus reducing stress on the member, the unit and the family. 

"You are a key enabler of the Reserve mission," Colonel Huston told the employers. "We could not serve without your support. We recognize that it is employers, along with the Reservists and their families, who make sacrifices so that we can defend this great country." 

The ESGR program is designed to protect both the Reservist and the civilian employer during times of mobilization. When Reservists and Guardsmen deploy, the impact on the local community can be significant. For this reason, Air Force Reserve commanders work with the civilian employers to help reduce the impact on local security and business operations as much as possible. 

"This partnership is vital considering the number of our Reservists who have been called upon to support overseas contingencies," said Colonel Huston. "Twenty-six of our Hawaii-based aerial porters just returned from Iraq, 54 of our civil engineers are serving in Afghanistan, and another 76 of our Guam-based Reservists are headed to Iraq in the coming months." 

At the conclusion of the briefings, the employers ate boxed lunches that most flight crew members receive when they go on a mission. Members of the group's 48th Aerial Port Squadron showed the employers around the military passenger terminal then assisted getting them through security and onto the KC-135. Employers took turns watching the boom operator off-load fuel to six F-15s. 

"That was absolutely amazing," said Doreen Dyer who works at the Federal Detention Center in Honolulu and employs Master Sgt. Felix Fernandez of the 48th APS. 

"The best part for me was seeing their faces light up when they watched our mission," said Master Sgt. Diane Marques, another aerial porter with the 48th who watched the aerial refueling alongside her boss, Mildred Blandamer of Kahi Mohala Behavioral Health in Ewa Beach. 

"Getting to see something like the refueling of jet fighters is awesome," said Jonathan Smith from Pacific Air Forces. "I've seen the briefings before but never this mission... I got to see the jet attach itself, detach itself, the pilot give a shaka and fly away. It was really cool. To describe it is impossible but to actually see it done, they make it look so easy, like it's nothing," he said. 

Aside from the skill required and the importance of the mission, the beauty and peace of the experience were the things that made the most impact on some of the employers. 

"What impressed me most was how beautiful and surreal it was," said Dennis Rhoden, Covanta Energy, Honolulu Resource Recovery Venture. "When the flight completed refueling and [the pilot] gave a shaka - the blue sky, the ocean, the white clouds in the background, and the fighter just dropped down and coasted away... It was beautiful." 

For most, the experience was a great chance to see the Air Force Reserve mission, while for others, it went beyond that and was a chance to see some of their own heritage. 

"It was such an honor," said Jocelyn Granier, who employs two of the group's Reservists at Kapiolani Medical Center at Pali Momi. "My dad was an active duty military pilot and the crew let me put his picture and hat in the cockpit. Everyone has been so accommodating, it means so much. I now understand why my dad loved flying. It's completely different up there." 

As well as demonstrating the Air Force Reserve's mission to civilians in the local community, it was educational for many of the Reservists in the 624th RSG. They got the opportunity to see how their comrades support the mission on a daily basis, but from a different angle. 

"It was such a wonderful opportunity to show appreciation to the employer and what the Air Force does," said Maj. Jennifer Sur Watanabe of the 624th Aeromedical Staging Squadron who is employed by Ms. Grainier. "But it also showed me what the refuelers do. I'm a nurse, so it was good for me to learn about and appreciate the different roles. We are all working toward the same goal, but our jobs are so diverse." 

The KC-135 used for Saturday's Employer Support Flight is assigned to the 452nd Air Mobility Wing at March Air Reserve Base, Calif. Later this week, Colonel Huston will travel with the KC-135 crew to Guam where they will take more than 30 civilian employers of the RSG's Andersen-based Reservists on an air refueling mission. 

"I hope we continue to do things like this," said Sergeant Marques. "It's such a good way to show our employers how much we appreciate them." 

At the end of the day, the Air Force may have recruited its fourteen newest members. When the employers attended the closing ceremony, the question heard around the room was, "Where do I sign up?" 

The 624th Regional Support Group headquartered at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, is the largest Air Force Reserve presence in the Pacific and reports directly to 4th Air Force at March Air Reserve Base, Calif. The group provides the combatant commander more than 650 combat-ready Airmen who specialize in aerial port, aeromedical staging and civil engineering operations for worldwide employment. The group has units at Hickam and Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.