TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – I was recently handed assignment orders and few things get me feeling more nostalgic than a permanent change of station. This one feels different though, because I’m at the point in my career where it’s entirely possible that after a decade since my first KC-10 Extender sortie, I will have flown my last mission in “Big Sexy.”
I truly feel that I could write a book about my experiences and what I’ve learned. I know only my wife would read it because she’s supportive like that, but I could still write it. While I’ll spare you the novel for now, I would like to share my favorite part of being a member of a KC-10 squadron.
For those who don’t know, the KC-10 community is relatively small. With only four active-duty squadrons located at two different bases, KC-10 aircrews are a tight-knit bunch. Even when someone “coast-to-coasts,” meaning they’re assigned to Travis Air Force Base, California, then assigned to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, and vice versa), they are usually met with familiar faces thanks to the amount of time we all spend together in an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia.
Another aspect of the KC-10 lifestyle is living the life of an enabler. By that, I mean if there is something happening in the news, it’s a safe bet that KC-10s are involved, doing our part to guarantee mission success. This is both a source of pride and stress. It means that every day you show up to work, you don’t know where you’ll be tomorrow.
On any given day, you need to be ready to be gone for a couple days, a couple weeks or a couple months. Trying to plan your life around a dynamic mission schedule becomes the ultimate exercise in service before self. This can be endlessly exciting and exhausting at the same time. What I really want to highlight is when you combine small group dynamics with the pressures of an enabler lifestyle, the result is a family.
Whether they are people I supervise, my peers or my leadership, members of a KC-10 squadron have a shared experience that helps us understand each other. Without a doubt, it’s difficult when I think of all the birthdays, funerals, family reunions and weddings I’ve missed. But I feel fortunate that I got to spend that time with my extended KC-10 family, accomplishing a mission in defense of our great country, all the while, forging relationships and creating memories that will last a lifetime.
Whether you’re at 30,000 feet over the middle of the Pacific Ocean with four fighters on your wing as you’re dodging a volcanic ash cloud and trying to re-calculate the fuel plan for a divert, discovering World War II relics on the shores of Wake Island or enjoying a drink at the Thirsty Camel after a 10-hour combat sortie, you know the person to your left and your right. You know that you’re in it together. That’s a special bond for which I will always be grateful.