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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Fairchild Air Force base sends crews, tankers to Libya

Fairchild Air Force Base is sending seven aerial refueling tankers and about 100 crew members to help enforce the no-fly zone over Libya.

Five of its KC-135 Stratotankers left over the weekend, one is scheduled to fly out this morning, and another was diverted to North Africa last week while on an unrelated mission, base officials said Tuesday. The tankers and crews will become part of Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn, and will operate from an undisclosed airfield overseas.

“Our crews are well trained for this, well prepared,” said Col. Paul H. Guemmer, wing commander of the Fairchild-based 92nd Air Refueling Wing.

The tankers, which are equipped to refuel a wide variety of coalition aircraft in flight, are particularly effective at extending the range and flight time of fighter jets, which will enforce the no-fly zone as part of a U.N. Security Council resolution to protect Libya’s civilian population.

Guemmer said Tuesday it’s unclear how long the new deployment could last, and while confident his crews will continue to perform well under pressure, he expressed concern that Fairchild is being pushed hard on several fronts.

“Fairchild airmen are really committed to the missions they perform,” he said, noting that the Fairchild-based 141st Air National Guard also is included in the deployment. “It’s always good to be able to go out and help.”

But with Fairchild crews already performing a majority of the aerial refueling missions over Afghanistan, and providing ongoing support of domestic homeland security efforts, Guemmer predicts a war-zone deployment over North Africa will test their stamina.

“We’re spread pretty thin right now,” he said, adding that Fairchild also has been ordered to put a KC-135 on alert for operational support in Japan. “We’re at a very high tempo.”

In addition to flight crews, Fairchild is sending mechanics and others who keep the aging jets operational.

Smaller numbers of tankers also are being sent to Libya from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, and from a U.S. squadron based at RAF Mildenhall north of London. The U.S. Air Force maintains the largest tanker fleet in the world.