Meridian, Miss. Progress is being made in an effort to fully re-establish the air refueling mission at the Key Field Air National Guard Base in Meridian. In 2011 the base lost that mission. The initial steps to re-establish it started last year. According to officials, the base is on track to meet an important goal regarding the assignment.
"We just received these AKC-135's back," says 186th Air Refueling Wing Commander, Colonel Mike Nabors. "We're working to get our people up to speed and trained to get back into the fight. It's scheduled for about May of 2015 when we have all of that training complete."
Currently, about half of the pilots at the base are trained to perform air refueling missions. When it comes to aircraft refueling, it is definitely a craft that requires special training. Referred to by some as a "gas station in the sky," the air refueling process can take anywhere from five to fifteen minutes to do.
As the base continues to shore up its air refueling efforts, it's facing another loss. As part of the presidential budget, the base is set to lose its R-C 26 counter drug aircraft. These planes are also used to survey damage after natural disasters.
Despite this fact, officials are optimistic that the base in Meridian will not be affected by any base realignment efforts within the near future.
"No one knows the future," says Nabors, "but we all believe that we're set for the next ten years, and that we don't have to worry about a whole lot."
The Key Field Air National Guard Base is one of the largest employers in Lauderdale County. It has 384 full-time employees, and almost 700 traditional guard personnel.