Members of the Washington Air National Guard began leaving Spokane Wednesday to help enforce a “no-fly zone” over Bosnia.
The KC-135 aerial refueling tanker and some 50 guard members are the first of several groups from the 141st Air Refueling Wing who will spend all or part of February based in Pisa, Italy.
By week’s end, three tankers and air and ground crews totaling 150 people will leave for the Italian air base. Some will return in mid-February and be replaced by other guard members.
The tankers will be refueling NATO planes from other European bases and aircraft carriers in the Adriatic Sea. Guard units around the country have rotated this assignment for more than 18 months, since Operation Deny Flight was announced, said Lt. Col. Robert Lewis, a guard spokesman.
The assignment has no direct connection to the buildup of U.S. and other NATO ground troops as peacekeepers in Bosnia, he added.
The 141st will be the lead unit for refueling forces in Pisa in February, Lewis said. That means the Spokane-based wing is sending administrative personnel as well as flight crews and mechanics for the assignment.
Lt. Col. Dave Avenell of the 141st will serve as acting wing commander for the Pisa refueling forces for the first half of February. Col. Larry Tripp will hold the top spot for the second half of the month.