AUTHOR'S NOTE: On April 10-12, I participated in a National Guard/Reserves event that involved a flight from the Bangor Air National Guard Headquarters to San Antonio, Texas.
The trip was part of the National Guard’s Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) program. This program’s purpose is to reinforce the relationship between employers and their employees who are also either in the National Guard or the Reserves. Although this organization has been in place for many years, the events of September 11 have increased the pressures faced by both employers and employees who have been called to duty.
Federal law requires employers to provide leave time without penalties to employees who are also in the National Guard/Reserves. The ESGR provides assistance to both the employer and the employee in specific situations that may involve such issues as identifying the amount of time an employee is called to active duty, rights of the employee upon returning from active duty and other issues that may arise in specific situations.
One aspect of the public relations campaign of the ESGR is to show the appreciation that the National Guard/Reserves has for the employers. This show of appreciation is manifested in an annual event known as “Bosslift.” Bosslift is a program where approximately 20 employers from Maine are invited to meet with some of the officers in the Guard and Reserves and see firsthand some of the activities and tasks that the employees/civilian soldiers are asked to perform. The employers included representatives from BIW, Adelphia, Bangor Daily News, Bangor Hydro and others.
As president of Maine Municipal Association and town manager of Vassalboro, I was invited to participate in this year's Bosslift event. The following narrative describes my experiences on the trip. Through my experience, I hope that municipal officials (as employers) will have a better understanding of what the ESGR does and what the Bosslift event was like.
We were told to report to the main gate at 6:00 am on Wednesday morning. Upon arriving at the gate, we had to show identification, vehicle registration and insurance information. We then drove through a second security checkpoint and were told where to park. After parking our vehicles, we were instructed to wait for a bus that would be taking us to a building to be briefed on the schedule. When we arrived at the building, we were then put through a security screening that was identical to what commercial airline screening has become. Our briefing included an explanation of the ESGR, the Bosslift program, and what we could expect to experience for the next 2 ½ days.
Our group boarded a KC-135 that has been outfitted with standard commercial airline seats. The KC-135 is the military equivalent of a Boeing 707. The seating is where any similarities with commercial airlines ended. The KC-135 is an in-flight re-fueling aircraft. Unlike a commercial jet, there are no bulkheads between the front of the plane and the rear. No doorway separated the cockpit from the passengers and cargo areas. The plane has only two sets of windows and the interior fuselage is dark gray fabric covered insulation. We were all provided with earplugs to wear while in flight to drown out the sounds of the engines. Once airborne, we were each taken to the cockpit where the flight crew answered any questions that we had. I learned that we were flying at 31,000 feet at a speed of about 470 mph. Our flight path was to take us over upstate New York, across Pennsylvania and Ohio and then veer south toward San Antonio.
As a refueling aircraft, the KC-135 can hold approximately 186,000 pounds of fuel located in 11 fuel tanks on board and can dispense up to 2,600 pounds per minute. We were also given a view of that function of the aircraft. The boom operator works out of the back of the plane. He lies prone and looks out a small window and operates a boom that extends up to 40 feet in order to connect with other planes needing refueling in flight. There was not any actual refueling scheduled for this trip, but we were shown how it is done.
We landed at Kelly Field at Lackland Air Force Base and were greeted by the commander of the Alamo Air Wing. The general went into detail about the mission of his command. The 433rd Air Wing is primarily responsible for airlifts using the C-5A Galaxy aircraft.
The C-5 is the largest military aircraft in the U.S. Air Force. It is almost 300 feet long; the flight deck is 35 feet above ground and at its highest point is as tall as a six-story building. The cargo hold is large enough to hold six city buses. After a tour of one of the C-5’s, we were then given an opportunity to experience a flight simulator for a C-5. The flight simulator is a $28 million training tool. What appear to be the images from 4,000 feet is instead a high tech mirror system that can replicate over 10,000 different landing situations worldwide. As seven of us sat in the simulated flight deck, we avoided severe weather, on-coming aircraft and switched from daylight to night flying in a matter of minutes. One of the employers successfully landed our C-5, albeit a little bumpy.
Dinner was at the Randolph Air Base NCO Club. Our hosts were members of the local Chamber of Commerce. We learned that the Air Base population totals 35,000 people, comprised of the military personnel and their families.
Day 2 started off with breakfast at the Randolph Golf Course. As with many installations, the Air Base has a very nice 18-hole golf course. Some holes run close to the flight paths of the aircraft at Randolph.
One component of Randolph is to train experienced pilots who train new pilots in turn. We were informed that when the pilots finish their first level of training, it is then determined if they will become fighter/bomber pilots, airlift pilots or tanker pilots. We were given the opportunity to visually examine the three different types of planes that are used to instruct the pilot trainers.
The next aspect of the trip was to visit a Marine Corps Reconnaissance Training group. Here we were shown the latest in gear and training tactics utilized by the Marines who are the first to land in any mission. Humvees, zodiac boats, the latest in weaponry and clothing were all on display for us.
We ended the second day with a briefing by a Texas National Guard Artillery unit. This unit had seen action on three different occasions in Bosnia and Serbia. Howitzers and rocket launchers, supported by the latest in radar, are the weapons of choice. The 151 howitzers are able to launch their projectile up to 20 miles and be accurate within 60 feet.
Thursday evening was spent in downtown San Antonio. The Alamo and the Riverwalk were the main attractions. The Alamo is a national tourist attraction that is rich with the history of the area. Most people are surprised at the relatively small size of the complex and many are also surprised that the Alamo is located in downtown San Antonio, surrounded by a mall and hotels. The Riverwalk is a significant economic center of the city. The Riverwalk is a man-made canal with bridges to cross over the water to sidewalks and boats to provide transportation through a maze of restaurants, shops and typical tourist stores. Most of us decided on dinner at Rio Rio which is a Mexican Restaurant with authentic cuisine. After dinner we walked and browsed various venues before returning to the hotel for the evening.
Friday, we spent the morning at Fort Sam Houston’s medical training facility. The facility is where individuals who will become medics, nurses, dentists and other healthcare providers in the military service receive their training. We were given tours of dental labs, bacterial identification labs and computer training labs. The level of training is intense and technologically at the forefront.
At noon, we boarded the KC-135 for our return flight to Bangor. As we cruised at 30,000 feet headed for home, we walked about the plane, looked out the back refueling portals, looked at photos we had taken, and discussed the various sites we had visited. The trip was a wonderful educational experience and was not a military propaganda event. The overriding military message was one of appreciation by the military officers we met for the cooperation provided by employers to allow their employees with the necessary time to participate in the National Guard and Reserves.