A toast to remember the fallen

  • Published
  • By Col. Thomas Riney
  • 22nd Operations Group commander
Off we go into the wild blue yonder,
Climbing high into the sun . . .

As I write this it has been less than one week since aircraft 8877 crashed in Kyrgyzstan, and as I reflect on what we do in the 22nd Operations Group, it is impossible to separate the sacrifice of the crew of Shell 77 and the everyday operations that are so important to our country.

Perhaps we should not try to separate the two.

We are THE super tanker wing. In the past week: we have launched to a forward operating base in Central America to support the president of the United States, flying multiple missions to enable air cover for our commander in chief; We have flown combat missions over Afghanistan; We continue to provide the staff package for the largest tanker squadron in the world; We have more air refueling capability here at McConnell than any other country in the world.

We provided more than 40 percent of our country's refueling operations last year. In addition, we have the only special operations air refueling mission in the Air Force. In 2011, we flew a record 46,000 hours. In 2012, we generated a record 2,500 locally-generated sorties. We continue to exceed the mission capability rate and support both conventional and nuclear deterrence.

When troops are in contact, we are there, enabling immediate on-call close air support. When our wounded warriors need transportation to medical care, we are there, either enabling the long flight or carrying the injured. When national disasters occur, we provide the air bridge that ensures U.S. aid can reach anywhere in the world. When critical combat training is required, we are there to ensure our country remains the land of the free. When people are threatened, we are the first on scene to establish control of the skies and protect the innocent.

Bottom line, we fuel the fight, we answer the call and we save lives all over the world.

It has been 14 years since I last raised a glass in toast to a lost tanker crew. I am a little older and the crew members seem a little younger but the words are the same ...

"We toast our hearty comrades who have fallen from the skies, and were gently caught by God's own hands to be with him on high.
To dwell among the soaring clouds they've known so well before, from victory roll to tail chase at heavens very door.
And as we fly among them there we're sure to hear their plea, 'Take care my friend, watch your six, and do one more roll for me.'"

I am extremely proud to be a KC-135 crew member! I am so proud of what the men and women of the 22nd Air Refueling Wing do every day and proud to be part of this awesome wing. Our mission is incredibly important to our country and the world. Despite our grief, there are those who depend on us.

In echelon we carry on. Hey!
Nothing'll stop the U.S. Air Force!
Nothing'll stop the U.S. Air Force!