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350th ARS deploys to the Deid

22 ARW, 350 ARS

Aircrew from the 350th Air Refueling Squadron are briefed outside of a KC-135 Stratotanker before their flight to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, July 22, 2019, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. The aircrew deployed as part of the 350th ARSs new squadron deployment structure, which hasn’t been done in two decades. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Skyler Combs)

22 ARW, 350 ARS

Lt. Col. Chris Power, 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron outgoing commander, welcomes new arrivals from the 350th ARS August 1, 2019, at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. The 28th EARS maintains a presence in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility, supporting U.S. and coalition aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Skyler Combs)

22 ARW, 350 ARS

The empty cargo bay of a KC-135 Stratotanker waits to be loaded with gear and luggage for deployment to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, July 22, 2019, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. Depending on fuel storage configuration, the KC-135 can carry up to 83,000 pounds of cargo. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Skyler Combs)

AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar --

The heat seems to affect everything. Water from the tap is never colder than lukewarm and aircrews bring frozen water bottles on missions so that by the time it melts, they can have a cool drink.

Despite the heat, the mission continues. On July 31, 2019, Airmen from McConnell Air Force Base’s 350th Air Refueling Squadron are leading the charge by deploying to “The Deid” as a whole squadron, which is something that hasn’t been done in almost two decades.

“The rotations here are high for the KC-135 because it is such a high-demand asset,” said Maj. Jody Robertson, 350th ARS pilot and 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron director of operations. “I think the hardest thing for us is not having any kind of predictability in what our schedule is going to be.”

Before resurrecting the squadron deployment structure, crews were on two week cycles. This makes turnover rates difficult to manage and presents challenges for mission essential aircraft like the KC-135.

“You lose a lot of things when you can’t develop relationships with your own squadron mates,” said Robertson. “Folks that are deployed will come back and see faces they’ve never seen before, even though both of them have been in the same squadron for a year and a half or two.”

Lt. Col. Kevin White, 350th ARS commander and incoming commander of the 28th EARS, spearheaded the change to the deployment structure with a year and a half long planning process.

“We started formulating briefs for Maj. Gen. Barrett and the 18th Air Force,” said White. “We effectively planned out all of our group’s squadron deployments for the next five years.”

Being at the head of such a radical change to the way service members deploy comes with its own set of challenges. The squadron needed to provide an actionable plan to Air Mobility Command headquarters to show how a squadron deployment structure would work.

“We’re the guinea pigs,” said Capt. Philip Rich, 350th ARS pilot and 28th EARS assistant director of operations. “It’s nerve-racking because you know so many eyes are on you.”

“Once this becomes the standard it will make things a lot easier,” continued Rich. “Right now we are figuring out that puzzle and finding solutions for everybody down the road.”

The support structure of a whole squadron could not only make for a more efficient and predictable work environment, but ease the sting of being away from home.

“The crews out here aren’t always on a schedule that allows them time to reach back and talk to their loved ones,” said Robertson. “That’s one of the things, hopefully, that the squadron deployment will alleviate.”

The squadron deployment structure will make crew rotations more efficient, predictable and continuous as well as strengthen the squadron’s sense of camaraderie, family and home-like atmosphere.