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There I Was...

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Sean Brown
  • 91st Air Refueling Squadron
There I was...making a mad dash with my co-pilot to the dining facility to grab food for a mission with an unknown duration. We had just been alerted and told to standby for our take-off time. This wasn't my first time being deployed to The Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan; I had been there earlier that year in the spring. As a boom operator on a KC-135 Stratotanker, it is my job to fly the boom on the back end of our aircraft into another aircraft's receptacle for aerial refueling. The KC-135 operates with a crew of three: aircraft commander, co-pilot, and boom operator. On most deployments a crew does practically everything together including flying, eating and other activities just to keep each other entertained. In a way, your crew becomes your deployed family because you look out for each other.

After our dining facility raid, we got returned to the aircraft to find that we didn't need to rush at all. Our take-off time wasn't for another hour. My crew decided to get back in the 15-passenger Chevy van we rode in. Even though the heat was on full and max blower, it still wasn't an effective countermeasure to the frigid temperatures produced during January. Before my deployment, I would always ask people who had deployed during the winter months at Manas how cold it actually got there. Each person would give the same facial expression and just respond with "cold." I now completely understand the facial expression they gave and their response of what "cold" really meant. We planned on absorbing as much heat in the van before going back onto the bitter cold aircraft.

The air-to-air refueling mission, in support of ground troops in Afghanistan, had been flown out of the Transit Center for over a decade. In the aerial refueling community, this expeditionary location became a home station away from home station. Just before Christmas, the commander explained the official base shut down sequence. We were identified as one of the last eight crews to continue Operation Enduring Freedom missions until the mid-February end date.

From the driver's seat of the van, I was admiring the towering snowcapped mountains that surrounded the base. I'll never know why my mind put everything together at that moment, but it did. I realized this deployment would be far more memorable than the previous. As my eyes moved down from the mountains, they caught a glimpse of the cold bleak landscape that was the base. With less military aircraft occupying ramp space and removal of HESCO barriers daily, it began to look bare. Other than realizing I needed to start taking pictures of this place, I finally had that, "whoa, I won't ever be coming back here" feeling.

Events are relative to each individual. To some, a description of a grim bare base during freezing months would not seem rewarding. To me though, all the hard training, long days, and cold temperatures were worth what I will forever be able to say I was a part of. My crew was a part of an end to an era.