By Staff Sgt. Eric Burks, 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. – “Every time a C-17 (Globemaster III) from McChord, or any of our other bases, lands anywhere around the world, it’s a symbol of hope,” said Gen. Arthur Lichte, commander of Air Mobility Command, today during his visit here.
“It may be in the middle of an earthquake, it may be in the middle of a tsunami, it may be in the middle of a cyclone. and it’s there to provide hope for the people who see it, he said. “It brings food, it brings equipment, it brings medical supplies and it may be taking people out of harm’s way and transporting them to another place.”
The global reach of McChord, AMC and the Air Force was an important and timely topic the general addressed today during his first visit here since assuming command of AMC in September.
“In AMC, we can go with a clenched fist and strike any of our enemies, or we can go with the outstretched hand providing humanitarian or disaster relief, like the situation that is occurring in Burma right now,” said General Lichte.
“Right now we have crews here at McChord Air Force Base that are on standby, ready to go at a moment’s notice if called upon to go in and provide that relief,” he said.
The 618th Tanker Airlift Control Center at Scott Air Force Base is monitoring the situation very closely, he said. According to AMC, the 618th TACC coordinates hundreds of airlift and air refueling missions each day, and can seamlessly redirect aircraft to support requirements for contingency or disaster relief operations.
“We’ve been called on to do this before,” said General Lichte, noting AMC’s role in relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina and the Pakistan earthquake in 2005.
According to AMC statistics, more than 14,600 passengers, including 3,000 patients were moved in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. More than 7,600 tons of relief supplies were provided after the Pakistan earthquake.
While McChord conducts operations on a daily basis, none of the missions would be successful without refueling tankers. The contract to build the KC-45 tanker, announced Feb. 29, ensured that McChord C-17s will be flying well into the future.
The KC-45 is needed badly, said General Lichte, and the average age of our current tankers is 47 years.
“As a war fighting commander responsible for providing air refueling, I need to be thinking down the road, and we can’t just keep flying these 50-year old tankers,” he said. “If everything goes right, and we start with the KC-45 rather quickly, it will still take a long time to replace all the KC-135’s.”
He estimated that the last KC-135 would likely still be flying in 2040, at more than 80 years old.
Missions, he said, would be comparable to driving an 80-year-old car from New York to California. “It might be pretty tricky for you to do that and would probably take a lot of maintenance. And that’s what’s happening with our KC-135.”
Air Force senior leaders are asking all Airmen for suggestions on a name for the KC-45A, according to an announcement today from AFPN. The ‘Name the Tanker’ contest is an opportunity for everyone in the Air Force, said General Lichte. While he is looking forward to seeing what names are submitted for the tanker, he reiterated the most important priority was getting them on the ramp.
Ensuring the global reach of AMC enforces all three of the Air Force’s top priorities – Winning Today’s Fight, Taking Care of our People, and Preparing for Tomorrow’s Challenges. “We are out there engaged in the fight.” said General Lichte. “Air Mobility Command leads the effort in what’s going on in the Global War on Terror. We are taking care of our people and we see that every day with the different missions that we do as well,” he said.
Along with air fleet modernization and acquisition efforts, Joint Basing is another example of Preparing for Tomorrow’s Challenges.
“AMC wants to make sure joint basing is a tremendous success,” said General Lichte. As McChord is in Phase II, he said, there would be a little more time to continue to work the memorandum of agreement.
“We have an opportunity to learn from some of the earlier joint basing decisions and can apply those lessons learned to McChord,” he said. “As we do this, we must remember that Airmen take care of airfields and we need to ensure we secure everything needed to execute this mission at this great airfield in the wonderful city of Tacoma.”
“Joint basing should lead to efficiencies and dollar savings,” he said. “We need to make sure we lead these efficiency efforts and consolidate where we can.”
General Lichte said that flexibility and authority must be maintained in order to appropriately take care of our Airmen and their families; all while preparing our Airmen to deploy and execute the mission.
The mission of McChord will remain the same, he said. “But we will be working very, very closely with our partners in the Army.”