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Making history: 50th Red Devils take flight

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Justin Poteet, the 50th Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) superintendent, prepares to make contact with an F-15 Eagle aircraft during the first 50th ARS training mission at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Jan. 16, 2018. After being relocated to MacDill, the 50th was re-designated from an airlift squadron to an air refueling squadron.

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Justin Poteet, the 50th Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) superintendent, prepares to make contact with an F-15 Eagle aircraft during the first 50th ARS training mission at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Jan. 16, 2018. After being relocated to MacDill, the 50th was re-designated from an airlift squadron to an air refueling squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Caleb Nunez)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jamar Campbell, a boom operator assigned to the 50th Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) prepares to make contact with an F-15 Eagle aircraft during the first 50th ARS training mission at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Jan. 16, 2018. As the 50th ARS settles in, their goal is to have one flight per day

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jamar Campbell, a boom operator assigned to the 50th Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) prepares to make contact with an F-15 Eagle aircraft during the first 50th ARS training mission at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Jan. 16, 2018. As the 50th ARS settles in, their goal is to have one flight per day. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Caleb Nunez)

The crew of the first 50th Air Refueling Squadron flight at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., pause for a photo Jan. 18, 2018. The most senior pilot and boom operator in the unit was paired with the most junior ones to symbolize the passing of excellence set by previous Red Devils.

The crew of the first 50th Air Refueling Squadron flight at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., pause for a photo Jan. 18, 2018. The most senior pilot and boom operator in the unit was paired with the most junior ones to symbolize the passing of excellence set by previous Red Devils. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Caleb Nunez)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ricardo Lopez, the 50th Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) commander, pilots a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft during the first 50th ARS training mission at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Jan. 16, 2018. With the call sign of DREW 50, the mission consisted of air refueling and tactical training.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ricardo Lopez, the 50th Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) commander, pilots a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft during the first 50th ARS training mission at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Jan. 16, 2018. With the call sign of DREW 50, the mission consisted of air refueling and tactical training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Caleb Nunez)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ricardo Lopez, the 50th Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) commander, pilots a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft during the first 50th ARS training mission at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Jan. 16, 2018. The 50th ARS was established in Tampa Bay during World War II and is one of the most decorated flying units in the Air Force.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ricardo Lopez, the 50th Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) commander, pilots a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft during the first 50th ARS training mission at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Jan. 16, 2018. The 50th ARS was established in Tampa Bay during World War II and is one of the most decorated flying units in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Caleb Nunez)

A KC -135 Stratotanker aircraft flies over MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., after a refueling mission Jan. 16, 2018. This was the first training flight for the 50th Air Refueling Squadron after being relocated here.

A KC -135 Stratotanker aircraft flies over MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., after a refueling mission Jan. 16, 2018. This was the first training flight for the 50th Air Refueling Squadron after being relocated here. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Caleb Nunez)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ricardo Lopez, the 50th Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) commander, reviews the aircraft documentation before taking off for the first 50th ARS’s training mission at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Jan. 16, 2018. The 50th ARS brought with it eight new aircraft to MacDill, expanding Air Mobility Command’s global reach.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ricardo Lopez, the 50th Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) commander, reviews the aircraft documentation before taking off for the first 50th ARS’s training mission at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Jan. 16, 2018. The 50th ARS brought with it eight new aircraft to MacDill, expanding Air Mobility Command’s global reach. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Caleb Nunez)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ricardo Lopez, the 50th Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) commander, reviews the exterior inspection checklist before taking off for the first 50th ARS training mission at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Jan. 16, 2018. This training mission came three months after the 50th ARS was relocated from Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, bringing one of the most decorated flying units back to Tampa.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ricardo Lopez, the 50th Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) commander, reviews the exterior inspection checklist before taking off for the first 50th ARS training mission at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Jan. 16, 2018. This training mission came three months after the 50th ARS was relocated from Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, bringing one of the most decorated flying units back to Tampa. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Caleb Nunez)

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- “Welcome to the first 50th air refueling flight,” said Lt. Col. Ricardo Lopez, addressing the aircrew members around the table during the historical pre-flight mission brief.

Although a seemingly routine brief on the surface, this one happened to be considerably more meaningful due to its profound historical significance.

Three months after being relocated and re-designated, the 50th Air Refueling Squadron completed their first refueling mission aboard a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, Jan. 16, 2018.

“It takes a lot of effort to generate a flight because there are a lot of moving parts, but we finally got it done,” said Lopez, commander of the 50th ARS. “We were finally able to fly the first true 50th Air Refueling Squadron training mission two months ahead of schedule.”

Although this was the first true training flight for the Red Devils, it was by no means their first mission.

“We’ve been operating with our sister squadron, the 91st Air Refueling Squadron, but this is the first one that was ours,” said Master Sgt. Justin Poteet, the 50th ARS superintendent. “It was definitely a big step to have our own mission numbers and operate as an independent squadron.”

With the call sign of DREW 50, the mission consisted of providing 16 thousand pounds of fuel to three F-15 Eagle aircrafts, along with some tactical training.

“Drew was the old name for Tampa International Airport, which is where the original 50th Airlift Squadron was born back in 1942, so we figured it was fitting,” said Lopez. “It was really cool to bring that name back to Tampa because of its significance.”

Not only was special care taken to decide the new call sign, but also in deciding the crew to fly this historical mission.

“I wanted the most senior pilot with the most junior co-pilot and the most senior boom operator with the most junior boom operator,” said Lopez. “It’s our way of passing the legacy and the mission to the younger generation and hopefully, they embrace it and take off running with it.”

This symbolic passing of the torch is significant since the Red Devils are one of the most decorated units in the Air Force and their history of excellence will continue where it once began.

“One of my goals is to bring the legacy set for 70 plus years to MacDill,” said Lopez. “Tampa is home to the 50th and after several decades of accomplishments, we are back.”

Now that the 50th has their first flight under their belts, it is time to look into what the future holds for the “Fightin’ Five-O.”

“From now on, you’re going to see more DREW flights every single week,” said Lopez. “We’re going to continue ramping up with the goal of having one flight per day in the very near future. That’s what we do in the 50th, that’s what we do in Team MacDill – provide tanker forces to the fight.”