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Black Knights saddle up for deployment

7 Mar 2003 | Lanorris Askew

Airman 1st Class Saraha Hughes, 21, has no idea where she will lay her head in a few days.

She does not know if she packed enough, too much or too little, but that does not quell the excitement of her very first deployment.

A jet engine mechanic with the 19th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron here, Hughes is among a number of 19th Air Refueling Group airmen who received deployment orders recently.

"This is what I signed up for," she said. "I actually asked to be put into this deployment. I feel very proud of myself."

Hughes admits that the unknown has her feeling a bit anxious.

"I'm not sure of what to expect, but like I said, this is what I signed on for, and I am ready to do my job," she said.

Col. Barbara Faulkenberry, 19th ARG commander, mirrored those comments and said that all of the "Black Knights" are ready to do their jobs.

"Though we have a lot of members preparing to deploy, we also have a large number who will be left behind in support of homeland defense," she said.

Faulkenberry said the KC-135 Stratotanker is also ready to go.

"We are able to move ... ourselves," said Faulkenberry. "We don't need any strategic airlift to help us get to our location. In this (KC-135), we have enough room ... to take our organization anywhere in the world to accomplish our mission."

That mission, according to Faulkenberry, is providing air-refueling support for Air Force, Navy and coalition aircraft.

"Any aircraft on a humanitarian mission or a combat mission generally requires in-flight air refueling," she said. "That is what makes our nation's power projection capability as significant as it is because no other nation is able to pick up and go anywhere in the world, air refueling along the way and then providing humanitarian assistance or combat power in the theater."

Maj. Greg Scheer, a KC-135 pilot since 1991, said the unit will support an air bridge.

"The air bridge enables the rest of our troops to get ... supplies and assets into theater," he said. "Our job is to refuel people in order to facilitate that."

Because of that role, Scheer called the unit an extender.

"We get people further to the fight, or we get cargo back home or into countries," he said. "We are like a filling station half way on that long interstate road."

Ensuring that all necessary equipment is available and ready, the combat communications element and life support were busy at work packing items ranging from survival vests to radios.

Airman 1st Class Chad Carswell, an aircrew life support specialist, was hard at work preparing aircrew defense ensembles and other chemical defense gear for his deploying counterparts. Though he is not deploying himself, he said he is confident in his team.

"Training here in the 19th is very good," he said. "I am not worried one bit about their safe return."