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Chance encounter
Capt. Timothy McBride and 1st Lt. Victoria McBride, 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Wing pilots, stand in front of a KC-135 Stratotanker on the flightline in Southwest Asia, Dec. 28, 2011. The McBrides, married since 2010, unexpectedly reconnected during a night air refueling mission in Afghanistan on Christmas Day. Timothy, a native of Orland Park, Ill., and Victoria, a native of Renovo, Pa, are deployed from McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)
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Air Force couple refuels their holiday spirit

Posted 12/29/2011   Updated 12/29/2011 Email story   Print story


by Senior Airman Michael Charles
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

12/29/2011 - SOUTHWEST ASIA  -- A little more than a year ago if you asked Timothy and Victoria McBride what they would be doing around the holidays they probably would have answered with the usual holiday traditions - making cookies, decorating the Christmas tree or opening presents. Normal newlywed couples would have been able to enjoy the many activities we associate with the holiday season, but the McBride's aren't your typical newlywed couple.

Both Timothy and Victoria are KC-135 pilots at the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron here. Due to the high deployment tempo of their job, birthdays, holidays and even their first anniversary have, for the most part, been relegated to chow hall dates and library visits. It was no surprise when both were notified of missions on Christmas day.

"We do many of the things your typical couple would do while we are home at McConnell Air Force Base, but while deployed our focus is expanded to accomplishing the Air Forces objectives as well," said 1st Lt. Victoria McBride, a native of Renovo, Pa.

"We both know the mission comes first," said Capt. Timothy McBride, a native of Orland Park, Ill. "We've been very fortunate. It's a testament to the Air Force's ability to accommodate relationships to even be deployed at the same time. If we have to sacrifice a holiday here to accomplish a much needed mission it doesn't really bother us."

Little did they know, however, that separate missions would also bring them together for Christmas.

After taking off on Christmas Eve on a nearly 10-hour mission to provide refueling support for special operations aircraft over Afghanistan, Timothy felt he would not get the opportunity to spend time with his wife on Christmas.

"It's the nature of the job," he said.

But things turned out for the better when the aircraft he was piloting was directed to provide fuel to an aircraft being co-piloted by his wife.

"It's a bit of coincidence that Vicky was in the tanker we were directed to offload fuel to," said Timothy. "Consolidating fuel is a common occurrence when providing tanker support; however, being able to work together to accomplish that mission on Christmas Day in the skies above Afghanistan was pretty special."

Consolidation of fuel is an oft used process in which one tanker will offload a majority of its fuel into another before heading back to base. By doing this, the newly replenished tanker can loiter providing additional air refueling capability.

Even though using this exercise is common, it was the first time that the couple had piloted the two tankers performing it in a real mission.

"It was a unique experience," Victoria said. "Even though I knew flying and completing a mission with Tim was possible, I never really gave much thought to actually accomplishing it."

Both were thankful for being given the opportunity to briefly connect during Christmas.

"Technically we got to spend Christmas together," said Victoria. "I can't complain about that."

"Going into this deployment I knew it would be hit or miss if we would actually be off on the same days during the holiday season," Timothy said. "Even though we both weren't, it's refreshing that I was able to speak and spend time with her on Christmas. Every little bit counts."

The couple knew that is was very much possible that they would spend their holiday season deployed.

"I had not deployed yet," said Victoria. "In a tempo such as ours I knew that it was only a matter of time 'till I was gone. It just so happened to fall on the holiday season as well. "

Victoria was notified in early 2011 that she would be deploying, upon completion of her co-pilot training in August. Timothy, who was coming off of his fourth deployment of the year, volunteered for another, in order to get on the same deployment rotation as her.

"She inspired me," Timothy said. "To be willing, without complaint to step up for her first deployment during the holiday season tells stories about her work ethic. After seeing how she carried herself through the whole ordeal I didn't mind volunteering to do the same."

The McBride's sense of duty and dedication to their mission speaks testaments to their character. For the rest of their lives they will always be able to tell the story of the Christmas night they spent in the skies of Afghanistan as only a service member can.

"The stars were aligned I guess," said Timothy with a chuckle. "It's truly the Air Force's version of the Christmas Story that I was able to work together with my wife to accomplish the mission in the skies of Afghanistan. It doesn't get any better than that."

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