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Meet the Black Knights: 99th Air Refueling Squadron

Airmen from the 99th Air Refueling Squadron congregate during base tour of Sumpter Smith Air National Guard Base, in Birmingham, Alabama, Aug. 28, 2018. The 99th Air Refueling Squadron is a geographically separated unit that functions administratively under of the 6th Air Mobility Wing.

Airmen from the 99th Air Refueling Squadron congregate during base tour of Sumpter Smith Air National Guard Base, in Birmingham, Alabama, Aug. 28, 2018. The 99th Air Refueling Squadron is a geographically separated unit that functions administratively under of the 6th Air Mobility Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Caleb Nunez)

Airmen from the 99th Air Refueling Squadron walk away from a KC-135 Stratontanker aircraft after performing maintenance at Sumpter Smith Air National Guard Base, in Birmingham, Alabama, Aug. 28, 2018. The 99th ARS is a geographically separated unit that functions administratively under MacDill Air Force Base, Fla

Airmen from the 99th Air Refueling Squadron walk away from a KC-135 Stratontanker aircraft after performing maintenance at Sumpter Smith Air National Guard Base, in Birmingham, Alabama, Aug. 28, 2018. The 99th ARS is a geographically separated unit that functions administratively under MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Caleb Nunez)

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

Amidst stretches of mountains and humid weather lies a town known for its football rivalries and southern hospitality. Although separated by nearly 600 miles, the town of Birmingham, Alabama, continuously supports MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, in providing rapid global mobility and sustainment for America’s armed forces by flying and maintaining KC-135 Stratotanker aircrafts.

Located deep in the South, the 99th Air Refueling Squadron is a geographically separated unit stationed at Sumpter Smith Air National Guard Base, in Birmingham, Alabama, but functions administratively under the 6th Air Mobility Wing.

“Just like our fellow Airmen at MacDill, the Black Knights of the 99th support AMC priorities through deployments in support of wartime operations, participation in joint and inter-service exercises, and through the daily air refueling we provide to military aircraft all over the southeast,” said Lt. Col. Aaron Torczynski, commander of the 99th ARS. “Like all other Airmen in the global mobility business, we train and maintain readiness to accomplish the mission at a moment’s notice.”

The squadron is comprised of 127 active duty Airmen and one civilian employee. Being geographically separated means the squadron functions as a small wing with 60 percent of the Airmen working in maintenance, 20 percent in operations and 20 percent in mission support areas.

“For development, readiness, training, and funding, we are supported by the leadership at MacDill,” Torczynski said. “However, for day-to-day operations, the 99th works with our Alabama Air National Guard brothers and sisters as part of the 117th Air Refueling Wing.”

This unique partnership began in October 2009, as part of the Air Force’s Total Force Integration initiative, which aims to improve the Air Force’s ability to accomplish its mission through the sharing of crews, aircraft and other resources.

“We are one of a small number of Total Force squadrons that lives and works on an Air National Guard Base,” Torczynski said. “One thing we bring to the Air Guard unit is a diversity of backgrounds, fresh experiences and new ways of solving problems. On the other hand, our Air Guard teammates bring a depth of knowledge and continuity.”

Although being geographically separated presents challenges, these are mitigated by the active duty and guard components working together toward accomplishing a singular mission.

“Close coordination and tireless support from the 6th Operations Group and their leadership, along with the terrific support we get from the 117th wing here in Birmingham, is essential in ensuring the Black Knights have the resources they need to effectively and efficiently accomplish the mission,” Torczynski said.

This partnership is possible because of the collective commitment to transcend status or component and continuously improve how the mission is accomplished.

“Working side by side with our National Guard brothers and sisters allows us to expand our mission capabilities through a common vision,” said Col. Stephen Snelson, commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing. “We are one Air Force.”