Love connection: Tanker pilot tells NBC about hookup over Afghanistan

  • Published
  • By Maj. Shannon Mann
  • 916th Public Affairs Office
Move over Matt and Meredith -- here come the McLeans!

On Sunday, Aug. 1, Navy fighter pilot, Lt. Jeff McLean, and his wife, Air Force tanker pilot, Capt. Christine McLean took a bite out of the Big Apple and told NBC's Today that inter-service romance can thrive even in a war zone.

The couple, graduates of the Naval Academy and Air Force Academy, married in 2009 and soon after the "I do's" were said seperated for long deployments to the Middle East.

Lt. McLean, an F-18 Hornet  pilot, had hoped that his many missions over Afghanistan might result in hearing his wife's voice across the radio frequencies during his many months in-theater, but it wasn't until his very last flight over Helmand Province that his wish was granted.

While it was all business at first, the two were able to share a moment at 20,000 feet when Jeff's fighter flew alongside the window of Christine's KC-135R Stratotanker. For a short moment she turned on the cabin lights and waved.

This is the stuff that fairy tales and romance novels are made of, and obviously NBC agreed.

For weeks prior to the couple's return stateside, producers from the popular morning news program called the 916th Air Refueling Wing to arrange for the pair to be on the show.  Christine is a pilot with the 911th Air Refueling Squadron, the first active associate tanker squadron in the U.S. Air Force.

The couple was excited to tell their story, but probably more excited to see each other when they both arrived to the U.S. just a few days before the interview.

Lester Holt, weekend anchor for Today, interviewed the couple about how hard it was to not see each other for so long, what it was like to hear each other's voices on the radios and how hard it was to make something like this happen.

"The stars aligned," said Capt. McLean. She explained that because of the high operations tempo in the area there was never a guarantee that a certain tanker would refuel a certain fighter. It was all fate.

Lt. McLean, assigned to the USS Eisenhower, said one of his wingmen happened to have night vision goggles and thought a picture of the couple 'hooking up' over Afghanistan was a once in a lifetime event. He was right.

"It was my 40th, and last, mission there," Lt. McLean told the anchor.

After a two-minute live interview, the couple enjoyed a short tour of the studio where they got to sit behind the Today anchor desk and joke about possible career changes.

For now though they're just happy being stationed close to one another on the East coast and flying the missions that make theirs a true love connection.