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Travis celebrates two decades of KC-10 excellence

A KC-10 Extender lands Sept. 19 at Travis Air Force Base. The aircraft has been part of Travis' mission for 20 years. (U.S. Air Force photo/Heide Couch)

A KC-10 Extender lands Sept. 19 at Travis Air Force Base. The aircraft has been part of Travis' mission for 20 years. (U.S. Air Force photo/Heide Couch)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- KC-10 Extender alumni from past and present converged Sept. 18 and 19 on Travis Air Force Base to celebrate the accomplishments and advancements the KC-10 community has achieved throughout its two decades at the installation.

Home to both active duty and Reserve units, Travis' air refueling squadrons mobilize and deploy 27 KC-10 aircraft, ensuring global reach for America by generating 24-hour-a-day strategic airlift and aerial-refueling sorties in support of U.S. and allied forces during humanitarian and contingency operations.

Since the KC-10s' arrival in September 1994, Travis has served as the Air Force's western hub for aerial refuel operations. Along with the service's east coast KC-10 units, based at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, the airframe has remained a staple platform for combatant commanders in nearly every operational effort since its introduction to the Air Force.

Entering the service in 1981 as a military modified version of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 airliner, the KC-10 was created out of a need to augment the Air Force's large fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers. During the Vietnam War, doubts were raised regarding the KC-135s' ability to meet the needs of the United States' global commitment.

"(KC-10s) have been the workhorse for 20 years and I hope they stay around a little longer," said Col. David Mott, 60th Operations Group commander, who recorded more than 4,300 flight hours, most of them piloting the KC-10.

More recently, the aircraft has played a prominent role since 9/11, flying more than 350 missions guarding U.S. skies as a part of Operation Noble Eagle and more than 1,390 missions delivering critical air refueling support to numerous joint and coalition receiver aircraft in operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

"The capabilities of the KC-10 are unmatched by any other air refueling asset in the world," said Lt. Col. Thad Middleton, 9th Air Refueling Squadron commander. "It has proven itself to be a force multiplier, not only for the U.S. Air Force, but for the weapon systems of both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps.  It is also capable of refueling weapon systems from allied and partner air services from around the world.  The plane brings stability and reliability to those who depend on it the most."

Throughout the two-day event that bridged the old generations of KC-10 aviators with the new, stories were swapped and knowledge was shared. But what appeared most evident was the beaming pride these individuals collectively displayed.

Individuals such as Sara Galvin, who recorded more than 10,000 flight hours as a KC-10 flight engineer, spoke extensively about the aircraft's rare multipurpose capabilities.

"The KC-10s versatility is what makes it so valuable," Galvin said. "It is the only aircraft that can both carry cargo and refuel on the same mission. Additionally, it is the only tanker currently in the fleet that can refuel using both the boom and the drogue in the same mission.  This kind of flexibility makes the KC-10 a vital asset on multiple fronts for the Air Force."

Middleton, who served in the 9th ARS a decade ago prior to assuming command of the squadron, has witnessed firsthand the mission of the KC-10 expand due to sustained operations and high deployment rates. But what stands out most to Middleton is what has remained constant throughout his tenure - the pride and professionalism of the KC-10 community.

"When I arrived here at Travis and more than 10 years ago, I was floored by the professionalism of not only the air crews but also the maintenance team supporting the KC-10 mission," he said.  "Of course, sitting here, watching our Airmen go in and out of the door, I feel the ops tempo is much more demanding than the years I was here, but they keep going.

"Over the years the men and women have maintained what we refer to as the 'Gucci standard' and continue to execute the mission safely, swiftly and with pride worldwide."

The 9th ARS commander added that the air refueling mission at Travis couldn't be accomplished without a "total force" effort.

"We are extremely fortunate to have a great relationship with our sister squadron, the 6th ARS, and our Reserve partners," he said. "These relationships are instrumental in making the Golden Bear's air-refueling mission happen on a daily basis."

In addition to the increased capabilities the KC-10 has brought to Air Force inventory, the local impact this airframe has brought to Travis is evident over the past 20 years.

The aircraft's arrival evolved Travis from an airlift wing to an air mobility wing due to the added air refueling capability in conjunction with its airlift role. Additionally, the military construction funds that came with the aircraft not only allowed the base to create new buildings to house the KC-10 flying and maintenance squadrons, but also give Travis a new Base Exchange.

"Despite its relative age, the aircraft is just as capable today as it was 20 years ago when it was first delivered to Travis Air Force Base," Middleton said. "It enables the 60th to embody what it truly means to be an air mobility wing."