JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. --
Every few seconds, wind gusts whip past him as he clasps an orange signal wand in each hand, placing them behind his back.
Senior Airman Jaramie York, 459th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron maintainer, stands motionless on the flightline at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, as temperatures approach freezing on a December day.
He is tasked with marshaling a parked KC-135R Stratotanker to the runway. The aircraft’s four engines are running but a last minute write-up on its GPS system means York must keep his position while an avionics technician troubleshoots the issue. Ten minutes pass before York is given the thumbs-up to signal the aircraft into position for takeoff.
“Being outside in these extreme temperatures is just part of the job,” said York with a sniffle after the KC-135R takes off. “Working on planes is actually a perfect fit for me because I grew up repairing automobiles and motorcycles, and seeing how they work.”
York is one of more than 1,300 Citizen Airmen and civilian employees assigned to the 459th Air Refueling Wing, an Air Force Reserve mission partner of the 11th Wing.
As its name suggests, the 459th ARW’s central mission is to provide in-flight refueling capabilities to joint mission partners across the globe during exercises and critical missions through the deployment and maintenance of the KC-135R Stratotankers.
As aerial refueling aircraft, KC-135Rs can carry up to 200,000 pounds of extra fuel used to fill the depleted tanks of other aircraft. Pilots whose planes are refueled during flight don’t have to land where they can potentially become sitting targets to enemy attacks. Aerial refueling also allows fighter jets with a replenished fuel tank to outlast an adversary with less fuel.
The 459th ARW’s aircraft inventory dates back to the 1950s and, yet, the planes show no sign of slowing.
“Our KC-135s are work horses,” said Senior Master Sgt. Zerrik King, 459th Maintenance Squadron flight chief. “Our job, as maintainers, is to ensure our aircraft are fully mission capable for another 10 years so they can continue bringing fuel to the fight.”
The expertise of the 459th ARW’s Citizen Airmen is not limited to aerial refueling. The wing’s other primary missions include cargo movement, VIP passenger transportation, aeromedical evacuation and alert readiness.
Each capability has the wing interacting with other organizations and sharing responsibilities with the overall mission at JBA. Its role as a base mission partner means providing gas to fighter jets from the 113th Air National Guard Wing D.C., transporting injured personnel to medical centers around the U.S., and sharing technical expertise, aircraft support equipment and facilities with other partner units.
Team Andrews is home to six wings, two headquarters and more than 80 tenant agencies. Each organization brings its own set of expertise to the table. The Citizen Airmen of the 459th ARW execute a multi-faceted mission, beyond aerial refueling. This broad spectrum of capability makes the wing one of JBA’s major mission partners.
“We are a part-time force with an increasingly full-time mission,” said Col. David Owens, 459th ARW commander. “To meet our mission demands, it’s necessary to foster close relationships with our mission partners.”