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 931st crew supports 2009 Tour for the Troops - 12/23/2009
Reservists fly Kid Rock, other artists on Tour for the Troops

Posted 12/2/2009   Updated 12/2/2009 Email story   Print story


by Lt. Col. Ann Peru Knabe
Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs

12/2/2009 - INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey  -- Being an Air Force reservist sometimes has its perks, like when flying an internationally known musician overseas. Aircrews from the 70th and 79th Air Refueling Squadrons based at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., recently drew lucky straws and took Kid Rock on a KC-10 flight during the 2009 Tour for the Troops.

"It's not something you get to do too often," said Master Sgt. Frank Carlos, a boom operator with the 79th ARS. The reservist with 18 years in the service normally works in a production department at a beverage company in California. He's flown VIPs before out of Andrews AFB, Md., but the Tour for the Troops is his first time flying musicians and big-name entertainers like comedian Carlos Mencia. As a boom operator, Sergeant Carlos says he wears two hats.

"I'm an air refueler and a loadmaster," he explained. "As a boom operator, I am responsible for refueling aircraft from the KC-10. But in missions like the Tour for the Troops, I serve in a loadmaster role, helping with cargo and people."

Master Sgt. Scott Dillinger, a KC-10 flight engineer from the 79th ARS, said it was his first mission flying artists like Kid Rock and Mr. Mencia. The air reserve technician said in some ways the mission was a little easier than getting up for refueling missions that leave at 3 or 4 a.m.

"We're actually on a more set clock on the Tour for the Troops mission," said Sergeant Dillinger. "And, if we need any en route support, it's considered high priority."

Tech. Sgt. Carl House, also a flight engineer in the 79th, normally flies 10-15 days a month with the Air Force Reserve. The reservist is a day trader in his civilian job, managing a large financial portfolio. As a flight engineer, he is responsible for "maintaining CG" ... the center of gravity on the air-to-air tanker. He spent seven years active duty before joining the Reserve 14 years ago.

"The 11-hour leg of the tour is a lot of work and long hours," he said. "But it's a terrific opportunity to bring these artists to the troops."

Unlike Sergeant House, the 20-something KC-10 aircraft commander, Capt. Dan Hildebrandt, describes himself as a "baby reservist."

"I've only been in the Reserve five years," he said. "I joined the Reserve without any active-duty background or ROTC training. When I graduated from college, I applied to several squadrons for pilot positions and was picked up by the 70th ARS and sent to Officer Training School, and then pilot school. However, that's a little unusual. Many of our flying crews come to the Reserve after active duty. And, then we have babies like me. It's this diversity of experiences that makes a good Reserve flying squadron."

"Being in the Reserve has been a really good deal for me," said the aircraft commander. "And it's not just cool missions like flying Kid Rock and Carlos Mencia. It also means having a job. I was hoping to work for the commercial airlines after pilot school, but the civilian airlines aren't hiring now. But I'm still able to get plenty of flying and work through the Reserve."

Senior Master Sgt. James Polhemus, a loadmaster from the 514th Operations Support Squadron at McGuire AFB, N.J., represents the opposite end of the experience spectrum. As the Tour for the Troops assistant airlift coordinator, Sergeant Polhemus has supported seven entertainment tours with the Band of the U.S. Air Force Reserve. He's flown dozens of entertainers like syndicated radio host Delilah, rocker John Popper, the country music group Trick Pony and artist Lee Greenwood and the New England Patriots Cheerleaders.

"To be honest, it's a lot of work," said Sergeant Polhemus. "We're up early building pallets. We're packing grand pianos, equipment, stages, lights ... you name it. Everything you see at the show is on the aircraft - 45,000 pounds of cargo. Plus, we have dozens of people and VIPs on the tour that we need to keep track of. It's like herding cats."

Sergeant Polhemus said he doesn't have much of an opportunity to put his feet up during the trip. During the tour, he usually only sleeps a few hours a night.

"We bust our chops to get everything packed, flown overseas and set up," he said. "Then we bust our chops tearing it down. It's a lot of work."

Sometimes the tours are on the ground for less than one 12 hours as the entertainers move around different bases. The schedule involves hundreds of hours of coordination and planning for concerts and morale visits.

"But it's all worth it in the end," said Sergeant Polhemus. "When you see the expressions on the troops' faces and you realize you can help them forget about everything for two hours and really enjoy themselves at the show, you don't even question the long hours and work. It's a very gratifying part of my job."

Formerly called Operation Seasons Greetings, the 2009 Tour for the Troops also features singer/songwriter Jessie James, the Twisted Brown Trucker Band and the Band of the U.S. Air Force Reserve. The tour schedule includes stops at Incirlik AB; Ramstein AB, Germany; RAF Lakenheath, England; and a number of deployed locations in Southwest Asia. (Air Force Reserve Command News Service)

12/8/2009 9:46:03 PM ET
Alright SMSgt Polhemus Good job keep up the good work
SSgt Brad StahlART, Joint Base MDL New Jersey
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