This is a piece that I wrote for a work publication. However, I feel like the more people who know about the employment challenges facing our part-time warfighters, the better. As such… BLOGGED!
Saturday, January 5th, 2013 at 10:45 AM, Alaska-time. I sat in a jump seat beside Chief Master Sergeant Kirk Brinegar, listening to Elmendorf’s air traffic control chatter on my headset. In the cockpit ahead of me sat Honorary Commander and BP Vice President of External Affairs, Phil Cochrane. Our pilots, Lieutenant Colonel Tom Haley and Lieutenant Casey McCormack called our attention to an F-22 Raptor thundering down the runway. The Raptor roared past us and then we taxied forward, turned, and lifted off into Alaska’s overcast, winter skies.
We were onboard an Air National Guard, KC-135 Stratotanker out of Oklahoma and Demon was the name of our mission. The KC-135 can carry over 80,000 pounds of fuel and our job was to refuel the F-22 Raptors of Alaska’s own 477th Fighter Group. The 477th is Alaska’s only Reserve unit and Air Force Reserve command’s first F-22 unit. We spent the next several hours drilling holes in the sky and refueling Raptors at 28,000 feet. Lying in the belly of the KC-135, I watched fighter jets take on fuel just twelve feet away.
Let me tell you… the operation, personnel, and equipment were simply impressive.
The military presence in Alaska has enormous economic impact on our communities and infrastructure investment. For years, Alaska Chamber members have adopted a position to seek community and legislative support for Alaska’s military operations. However, it’s often difficult for Alaskans, and Alaska’s businesses, to express support for our service personnel. The KC-135 mission was part of an attempt to educate Alaska’s employers and to grow these connections.
Myself, Cochrane, and several other civic leaders were onboard by invitation from the 477th Fighter Group. Be it Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Coast Guard Base Kodiak, or JBER in Anchorage, Alaska is an appealing assignment for service personnel. They want to be in Alaska. They want to work here, to raise their families here. They want to enjoy all the aspects that make this state such fantastic place to live.
For the reservist, a critical part of Alaskan-life is a good, private-sector job. These are talented professionals with a commitment to serving their communities and their country. It can be a challenge for them to connect with employers who understand why they aren’t available to pull extra shifts on weekends. They need employers that recognize why every vacation day is saved for missions and training in service to our country.
Alaska Chamber members have identified support of our military as something that is important to the economic health of the state. Are you interested in doing your part to start growing that base of support? Consider educating yourself on the skills, needs, and availability of our Guard and Reserve Service members.