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Teamwork raises Wisconsin guardsmen to new heights

An Air National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 115th Fighter Wing prepares to be fueled by a KC-135 Stratotanker during a training exercise near Key West, Fla., Feb. 5, 2014. The 115th FW came to Key West in February to reduce the likelihood of flight cancelations due to weather. The two-week deployment allowed pilots to test their expertise against dissimilar aircraft. (Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Andrea F. Liechti)

An Air National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 115th Fighter Wing prepares to be fueled by a KC-135 Stratotanker during a training exercise near Key West, Fla., Feb. 5, 2014. The 115th FW came to Key West in February to reduce the likelihood of flight cancelations due to weather. The two-week deployment allowed pilots to test their expertise against dissimilar aircraft. (Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Andrea F. Liechti)

Maj. Mike Dirnberger, 128th Air Refueling Wing pilot, and Maj. Robert Ulander, 128th ARW co-pilot, prepare the KC-135 Stratotanker for a landing onto Naval Air Station Key West, Key West, Fla., Feb. 5, 2014. The pilots and their crew allowed Airmen assigned to the 115th Fighter Wing an incentive ride so they could watch an air refueling live. (Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Andrea F. Liechti)

Maj. Mike Dirnberger, 128th Air Refueling Wing pilot, and Maj. Robert Ulander, 128th ARW co-pilot, prepare the KC-135 Stratotanker for a landing onto Naval Air Station Key West, Key West, Fla., Feb. 5, 2014. The pilots and their crew allowed Airmen assigned to the 115th Fighter Wing an incentive ride so they could watch an air refueling live. (Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Andrea F. Liechti)

Air National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the 115th Fighter Wing fly to the side of a KC-135 Stratotanker during a training exercise near Key West, Fla., Feb. 5, 2014. The 115th FW came to Key West in February to reduce the likelihood of flight cancelations due to weather. The deployment that lasted almost two weeks allowed the pilots to test their expertise against dissimilar aircraft. (Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Andrea F. Liechti)

Air National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the 115th Fighter Wing fly to the side of a KC-135 Stratotanker during a training exercise near Key West, Fla., Feb. 5, 2014. The 115th FW came to Key West in February to reduce the likelihood of flight cancelations due to weather. The deployment that lasted almost two weeks allowed the pilots to test their expertise against dissimilar aircraft. (Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Andrea F. Liechti)

An Air National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 115th Fighter Wing flies past the left boom operator's window of a KC-135 Stratotanker after refueling during a training exercise near Key West, Fla., Feb. 5, 2014. The 115th FW came to Key West in February to reduce the likelihood of flight cancelations due to weather. The deployment that lasted almost two weeks allowed the pilots to test their expertise against dissimilar aircraft. (Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Andrea F. Liechti)

An Air National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 115th Fighter Wing flies past the left boom operator's window of a KC-135 Stratotanker after refueling during a training exercise near Key West, Fla., Feb. 5, 2014. The 115th FW came to Key West in February to reduce the likelihood of flight cancelations due to weather. The deployment that lasted almost two weeks allowed the pilots to test their expertise against dissimilar aircraft. (Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Andrea F. Liechti)

An Air National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 115th Fighter Wing flies to the side of a KC-135 Stratotanker during a training exercise near Key West, Fla., Feb. 5, 2014. The 115th FW came to Key West in February to reduce the likelihood of flight cancelations due to weather. The deployment that lasted almost two weeks allowed the pilots to test their expertise against dissimilar aircraft. (Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Andrea F. Liechti)

An Air National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 115th Fighter Wing flies to the side of a KC-135 Stratotanker during a training exercise near Key West, Fla., Feb. 5, 2014. The 115th FW came to Key West in February to reduce the likelihood of flight cancelations due to weather. The deployment that lasted almost two weeks allowed the pilots to test their expertise against dissimilar aircraft. (Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Andrea F. Liechti)

KEY WEST, Fla. -- The KC-135 Stratotanker pilot and co-pilot keep the jet as steady as possible. The boom operator patiently waits to perform her job. Distance is called out inside her headset. They're 15 miles out. Now, they're only five miles out.

She anxiously looks through the small glass window, trying to locate the F-16 Fighting Falcons. They can see her before she can see them. Cranking her neck to the right, she makes eye contact with the jet. Her eyes are set on her target. Seconds pass as the 115th Fighter Wing pilot positions his jet slightly under the KC-135. The boom operator moves her controls very carefully. She only has about 25 feet of boom to work with. A connection is made, fueling begins.

Master Sgt. Amanda Look, 128th Air Refueling Wing boom operator, and other members of the 128th ARW, work with the 115th FW on a regular basis.

"We probably play with these guys at least two to three times a week," said Tech. Sgt. Troy Johnson, 128th ARW boom operator.

The January weather in Wisconsin was cold and snowy, making the temporary duty deployment to Key West necessary for training.

"We've canceled a lot of flights already this year," Johnson said. "We have a set number of contacts that need to be made."

The TDY allowed the two units to practice this refueling twice a day, almost every day, ensuring their required contacts were made. It also gave new pilots a chance to strengthen their refueling procedures.

"Initially it takes a lot of practice," said Lt. Col. Jon Kalberer, 176th Fighter Squadron commander and F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot. "We do it so much back home that for most of our experienced pilots it's almost second nature."

The teamwork between the two Wisconsin Air National Guard units made the deployment a success.

"It's good to work with the same crew over and over," Kalberer said. "We know what to expect from them and they know what to expect from us. It makes these deployments seamless."

According to Kalberer, with the help of the 128th ARW, the 115th FW was able to accomplish two missions for every take-off and landing throughout the training TDY. The first mission allowed them to practice the maneuvers they were assigned to accomplish. Then they refueled and tried it again. That second go-around gave the pilots a chance to clean up any mistakes they made during that first mission. The ability to utilize the 128th ARW allowed the pilots to complete their missions with precision before they landed.

"We know we can rely on the 128th," Kalberer said. "It's good to get to know people in other units. It's good to get to know them because we are the Wisconsin National Guard."
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