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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

With more planes arriving to Fairchild, Lt. Gen. Giovanni Tuck says base’s future remains bright

Air Force Lt. Gen. Giovanni Tuck, in direct command over the 92nd Air Refueling Wing at Fairchild Air Force Base, talks with the media, Wednesday, Mar. 21, 2018. He said Fairchild is well-situated in the militarys plans for projecting power overseas using the older tankers that Fairchild has. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

In a gallery of photos hanging on the wall of a cavernous World War II-era hangar at Fairchild Air Force Base, Lt. Gen. Giovanni Tuck’s picture shows him smiling, between similarly beaming photos of Gen. Carlton Everhart and Col. Ryan Samuelson.

The placement is not unintentional. Samuelson, commander of the base, reports to Tuck, who reports to Everhart, commander of the Air Mobility Command. The chain of command continues as, just three photos away, appears Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Then President Donald Trump.

If the proximity doesn’t signal Tuck’s importance well enough, just look at the three stars on his collar.

Tuck is in charge of planning and logistics for the Air Mobility Command, the mission of which is to provide “rapid, global mobility” for the military through airlift, aerial refueling, aeromedical evacuation and contingency response.

The general was in town this week, meeting airmen and Spokane officials, and touring around the base. Part of the reason for the trip was to see what resources the base had, hearing from its leaders about what it needed and to “see it, touch it, connect with airmen … a three star talking to brand new people here.”

As a pilot, he’s flown about 4,800 hours in 11 types of military aircraft, including the KC-135, the stratotanker that defines Fairchild as among the largest refueling tanker bases in the U.S. military.

And the command pilot-turned-general based at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois had nothing but nice things to say about Spokane and its air base.

“The importance of this base is resident in the fact that these airplanes are here, we’re bringing more KC-135s here and we’re here to stay,” Tuck said. “It is just a spectacular base.”

Fairchild is getting 12 more KC-135s, as well as additional personnel and infrastructure to support the expansion. When done, the base will be the military’s largest wide-bodied active duty base in the world and the 92nd Air Refueling Wing, the largest tanker fleet in the Air Force.

With nearly 60 of the so-called flying gas stations and anywhere from 400 to 1,000 additional airmen and their dependents, Fairchild’s future is bright, Tuck said.

Right now, this wing is ready to deliver its combat mission

“This wing is responsible for a lot of mission sets,” he said, noting that the wing could be called upon in a number of ways, including support in the Pacific, assisting bombers in Libya and taking part in humanitarian missions in places like Puerto Rico.

“There isn’t a day that our country doesn’t need the platforms that are here and how we project power from this base,” he said. “There isn’t a day that we’re not calling on them to deliver that.”

Tuck said air bases could always use more resources, but he said Fairchild was well-equipped.

“I think we have everything that we need,” he said. “When it comes to being able to deliver a decisive force, or if we have to fight tonight, when we have to send these magnificent airplanes on the road with our support staff that employs them and also our maintainers and our crews, this wing has the capability to bring combat power and to be able to forge what our nation needs it to.”

The general wouldn’t predict the future, but he said he was confident the base would be here for decades to come.

The decision to place more KC-135s was announced last year. It came after Fairchild lost two bids to be the home to KC-46A, a new plane that is expected to eventually replace the KC-135s.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, “ he said. “But in the future, I do know this, we are bringing 12 more KC-135s to this base. We are adding infrastructure to this base to accommodate the bed down of those 12. … Should a decision be made down the road for the KC-46 to be here, I’m confident that the base will absolutely absorb those airplanes in a way that we can project power. I want to tell you very cleanly that if the KC-46 doesn’t come here for decisions made outside of my control, that these airplanes that are flying now are expected to fly for the next 20 to 30 to 40 years.”