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Bandits Lead Tanker Takeoff

Maj. Seth Paulsen, 349th Air Refueling Squadron chief of standards and evaluations, reviews the mission and egress plan prior to a preflight check Apr. 8, 2020, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. Approximately half of the 349th squadron deployed to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, supporting air refueling operations to U.S. and allied partners. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nilsa E. Garcia)

Maj. Seth Paulsen, 349th Air Refueling Squadron chief of standards and evaluations, reviews the mission and egress plan prior to a preflight check Apr. 8, 2020, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. Approximately half of the 349th squadron deployed to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, supporting air refueling operations to U.S. and allied partners. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nilsa E. Garcia)

1st Lt. Julia Knapp, 349th Air Refueling Squadron pilot, refers to her preflight checklist Apr. 9, 2020, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. A pilot must ensure aircraft systems and flight controls are mission ready to support rapid global mobility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nilsa E. Garcia)

1st Lt. Julia Knapp, 349th Air Refueling Squadron pilot, refers to her preflight checklist Apr. 9, 2020, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. A pilot must ensure aircraft systems and flight controls are mission ready to support rapid global mobility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nilsa E. Garcia)

Tech. Sgt. Lucas Treat, 349th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, carries engine covers in a KC-135 Stratotanker Apr. 8, 2020 at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. The deploying aircrew will fly a 16 hour direct flight to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. The KC-135 has the capability of traveling 1,500 miles with 150,000 pounds of transfer fuel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nilsa E. Garcia)

Tech. Sgt. Lucas Treat, 349th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, carries engine covers in a KC-135 Stratotanker Apr. 8, 2020 at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. The deploying aircrew will fly a 16 hour direct flight to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. The KC-135 has the capability of traveling 1,500 miles with 150,000 pounds of transfer fuel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nilsa E. Garcia)

Aircrews’ cargo sits on a baggage pallet Apr. 9, 2020, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. A five-man team preloaded aircrews’ cargo onto the KC-135 Stratotanker, which allowed for the immediate departure of the deploying aircrew. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nilsa E. Garcia)

Aircrews’ cargo sits on a baggage pallet Apr. 9, 2020, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. A five-man team preloaded aircrews’ cargo onto the KC-135 Stratotanker, which allowed for the immediate departure of the deploying aircrew. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nilsa E. Garcia)

Senior Airman Joshua Granados, 349th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, carries his personal belongings to a KC-135 Stratotanker Apr. 9, 2020, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. In order to support ongoing air refueling operations, each aircraft was assigned a second augmented aircrew to take over operation of the aircraft during the second half of the flight to Qatar. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nilsa E. Garcia)

Senior Airman Joshua Granados, 349th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, carries his personal belongings to a KC-135 Stratotanker Apr. 9, 2020, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. In order to support ongoing air refueling operations, each aircraft was assigned a second augmented aircrew to take over operation of the aircraft during the second half of the flight to Qatar. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nilsa E. Garcia)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. --

As the sun begins to set, Airmen from the 349th Air Refueling Squadron board a KC-135 Stratotanker; their smiles hidden and laughter muffled by the brightly patterned face masks they wear. Yet even with their faces covered, the masks cannot hide the high spirits of the Airmen ready to deploy.

 

In the midst of a global pandemic, the execution may change but Team McConnell’s mission remains the same — fuel the fight through combat-ready Airmen and mission support.

 

“Often, times of crisis allow people an opportunity to step up,” said Lt. Col Daniel Schone, 349th ARS Commander. “And that's exactly what we’ve seen from the 349th and the supporting agencies from across the base.”

 

The implementation of a base-wide increased health protection condition required McConnell’s agencies to become innovative during the preparation for the 349th ARS’s deployment to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.

 
“This has been a team effort across the board,” said Schone.

 

 In order to ensure the health of the aircrews slated to deploy, processes were adapted to limit physical touch points while still maintaining the same readiness effect. This meant folders were prepared with the required documentation and sent through a mobility line in place of Airmen, aircrew baggage was loaded on the aircraft in advance and preflight checks were performed a day prior to the deployment by other Airmen. All of which helped create a position where aircrew members could report directly to the aircraft with limited risk of exposure.

 

“It's obviously a different dynamic than what we’re used to,” said Senior Master Sgt. Aaron Tessmann, 349th ARS squadron superintendent. “But all the work that has been put in has made it incredibly easy for us to get out the door.”

 

In the two weeks leading up to the deployment, the 349th ARS transitioned to minimal manning as aircrew self-quarantined in their homes. Pilots and boom operators utilized web conferencing, which became key in the continuation of mission preparation and sustaining their knowledge level for the deployment and 16-hour flight to Al Udeid.

 

“In our squadron we hang our hats on being the Bandit family, so when it comes down to it, our number one priority is caring for each other and our families,” said Schone. “This doesn't change whether we are facing COVID-19, training, or executing combat operations. As long as we continue to care for each other, the mission will get done.”