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Hawaii Air Guard tankers join fight against Islamic State

  • COURTESY U.S. AIR NATIONAL GUARD / TECH. SGT. ANDREW JACKSON

    A Hawaii Air National Guard ground crew member on Friday guides a KC-135 Stratotanker at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for departure to Qatar to join the 18-nation air coalition in the fight against Islamic State.

More than 50 members of the Hawaii Air National Guard deployed over the weekend with three KC-135 Stratotankers to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar to refuel coalition aircraft fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“Aerial refueling makes it possible to extend the range and persistence of coalition air operations in Iraq and Syria, enabling U.S. and other coalition aircraft to maintain a 24/7 presence over areas Daesh operates in, holding targets they value at risk,” the Hawaii National Guard said, using another name for Islamic State.

The refueling tankers belong to the 203rd Air Refueling Squadron. The flight and maintenance crews will be deployed for four months as part of an Air Expeditionary Force rotation. The deployment is similar to a rotation during the summer and fall of 2014, the Hawaii National Guard said.

More than 200 Hawaii Air Guard and active duty Air Force personnel are on a six-month deployment to the Middle East, meanwhile, with Hawaii-based F-22 Raptors that are carrying out strikes against the Islamic State.

At the midpoint of the Raptor deployment in late December, the Hawaii fighter and strike aircraft had flown more than 100 sorties in combat or in a combat support role, dropping more than 130 GBU-32 1,000-pound bombs in Syria and Iraq.

“We have generally been tasked to target and destroy Daesh training camps, vehicle-borne improvised explosive device manufacturing and storage facilities, fighting areas, various Daesh headquarters facilities and Daesh-controlled oil distribution capabilities,” said a pilot at the time whose name wasn’t revealed for security reasons.

The Air Force didn’t disclose the number of Raptors in the theater, but a previous deployment involving a Florida unit included six F-22s. The Hawaii stealth fighters are the only F-22s in the Middle Eastern region.

The majority of those deployed are from the Hawaii Air Guard, with active duty airmen from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam rounding out the contingent. The base from which the F-22s operate also wasn’t revealed due to host-nation sensitivities.

The tankers and F-22s will not operate from the same base, but it’s possible the Hawaii tankers could refuel in air the Hawaii Raptors, the Hawaii National Guard said. The Hawaii Air Guard members are part of an 18-nation coalition fighting Islamic State.

The deployed Guard airmen are part of the 154th Wing, the largest Air National Guard wing in the nation. The Hawaii Air National Guard is composed of nearly 2,500 airmen whose federal mission is to be trained and available for active duty Air Force operational missions, the Guard said.

As of Feb. 3, the United States and coalition partners had conducted a total of 10,113 air strikes in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon said. The U.S. total included 4,611 strikes in Iraq and 3,142 in Syria. The cost of operations at the end of December and since the strikes began on Aug. 8, 2014, totaled $5.8 billion, with the average daily cost at $11.4 million.

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