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The Pentagon is preparing to pull out of Kyrgyzstan, the former Soviet bloc nation where Fairchild-based tanker crews have flown thousands of combat refueling missions over Afghanistan since the start of the war. The Defense Department said Monday it will vacate Manas Transit Center by July rather than attempt to negotiate a lease extension for continued use of the expeditionary base. The transit center serves as a staging point for aerial refueling missions and as a northern air supply route into nearby Afghanistan for troops and equipment.
Fairchild airmen deliver aid, forge relationships at Kyrgyzstan preschool.
MANAS TRANSIT CENTER, Kyrgyzstan – Taking advantage of an invitation to tour this small U.S. air base as a friend of a civilian Kyrgyz national who works here, tobacco producer Ulvgbek Abazgano took a moment to reflect as he struggled to describe what he was feeling. The roads are paved and smooth. The buildings, primarily reinforced tents and other temporary quarters common among U.S. expeditionary bases, all have hot and cold running water, flush toilets, heat and air conditioning. Food is plentiful.
MANAS TRANSIT CENTER, Kyrgyzstan – The slight evening drizzle had turned to a steady twilight rain, but Airman 1st Class Dustin Harder continued digging into the KC-135 aerial refueling tanker’s engines, using the jet’s broad wingspan to help stay dry. The tanker had finished a refueling mission over Afghanistan and would be needed back in the air soon, ready to deliver more fuel to thirsty fighter jets providing air cover for U.S. and coalition ground forces or to cargo planes needing to extend their flight paths.
Manas Transit Center, where hundreds of airmen and women from Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane are regularly deployed, is a key supply and refueling hub for U.S. and coalition combat operations in nearby Afghanistan. Photographer Colin Mulvany and deputy city editor David Wasson recently visited the base on a tour arranged by the U.S. Air Force.
VASILIEVKA, Kyrgyzstan – The youngsters at Solnyshko preschool in this impoverished village near the border of Kazakhstan were excited to see the American men and women from the nearby air base. They giggled and clapped their hands. Fidgeted in their seats. And waited as patiently as any preschooler is able when the promise of gifts and perhaps even candy is just a few formalities away. “They’re always happy when the Americans come,” the school’s principal, Manzura Kushbaeva, said through an interpreter.
SOMEWHERE OVER AFGHANISTAN – Staff Sgt. Aaron McLaughlin eased the KC-135’s fuel boom toward the fully armed fighter jet pushing up beneath the tanker’s tail. Within moments the two aircraft were linked high above the rugged battlefields of Afghanistan as thousands of gallons of aviation fuel pumped into the F-15E Strike Eagle.