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Active associate squadron stands up at March

  • Published
  • By Megan Just
  • 452 AMW Public Affairs
A five-member advanced echelon arrived at March last month to establish the 912th Air Refueling Squadron, an active duty associate unit that will integrate with the 336th Air Refueling Squadron and other units across the base.

The squadron's arrival has been anticipated since being announced by Air Force Reserve Command and Air Mobility Command in early 2009. Active duty associate units bring additional manpower to Guard and Reserve squadrons to increase their operation tempo without the use of additional aircraft, in this case, the KC-135 Stratotanker.

"The benefit for the Air Force is the increase in the capability and deployment assets in theater," said 912th ARS commander Lt. Col. Brice Middleton. "We're also going to have an entire squadron here full time. We'll be able to help provide continuity that the part-time folks sometimes can't."

Colonel Middleton, Maj. Rob Walmsley, the 912 ARS Operations Officer, Capt. Eric Doi, and Tech. Sgt. Dan Beecher flew the squadron's first mission Nov. 23. The crew refueld a C-17 Globemaster from the 729th Airlift Squadron at March ARB on an air refueling track off the coast of southern California.

"While it has been a great experience flying with the 336th Air Refueling Squadron as part of their local area orientation, it was exciting to fly under our own call sign. It made the squadron finally feel like a reality," Colonel Middleton said.

The 912th will be integrated closely with the 336th Air Refueling Squadron, 452nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and will be operationally tasked by the 452nd Operations Support Squadron. They remain under the administrative control of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Wash.

Because the Air Force's active duty finance and personnel systems differ from the Air Force Reserve systems, the squadron will rely on assistance from Los Angeles Air Force Base and Edwards Air Force Base in California's Antelope Valley. In addition to finance and personnel support, the two bases will help supplement services that a Reserve base like March does not have, such as a full-service medical clinic and Airman Leadership School.

Master Sgt. Carlos Garcia, 912 ARS knowledge operations manager, describes the members of the advanced echelon as "guinea pigs" as they work through the various challenges the new squadron faces.

"Once we work the solutions for us, the rest of the people will be taken care of," he said.

When the squadron is fully manned, it will have about 200 active duty Airmen. There will be more than 30 aircrew members and 130 maintainers. The remainder of the squadron members will augment and support operations within the 452nd Air Mobility Wing in fields such as life support, intelligence, supply, command post, crew communications, medical and commander support staff.

A large contingent of squadron members are due to arrive in January, with the remaining Airmen arriving in smaller waves between February and August. Sergeant Garcia estimates 80-90 pecent of the Airmen who will be coming to March have already received notification of their orders.

Making the incoming Airmen's transition to March smooth is one of the primary focuses of the advanced echelon.

"We're creating everything from scratch," said Sergeant Garcia. "There are no guidelines on how to do anything. What worked at one base that's done total force integration may not work here."

Sergeant Garcia and Major Walmsely said some of the challenges they face include transportation and housing for the junior enlisted Airmen, and helping families find childcare services in the local community.

"We have our daily meeting about what we're going to figure out that day and usually by the end of the day, we've figured it out and we move on to another challenge the next day," Major Walmsley said.

Several members of the advanced echelon said it was these very challenges of establishing a squadron from the ground up that made the assignment at March so attractive in the first place.

"Every unit you go to, there are the things you like and the things you don't like. There's that culture in the unit that they've always done things a certain way and sometimes you have to fight the momentum," said Colonel Middleton. "This is an opportunity I saw to come in and make it the way you think it ought to be."

"The rewarding part of it is starting from scratch," the squadron commander continued.  "Everybody has great experiences from their past units. We get the benefit of being able to draw from all of those different experiences to mold and shape the unit the way we want it. It's a lot of work and our to-do list is growing day by day, but it's a great opportunity that is very rare in the Air Force."