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Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mark McCassin, who is assigned to the 157th Maintenance Squardon, New Hampshire Air National Guard, poses in front of a KC-135R Stratotanker at Pease Air National Guard Base. McCassin, a Goffstown High School graduate and Manchester resident, is the crew chief assigned to tanker serial No. 57-1419 – the oldest aircraft in the U.S. Air Force inventory.

As you likely read on the front page on Monday, March 11, by the end of the month the last KC-135 Stratotanker will have flown out of the Pease Air National Guard Base never to return. The New Hampshire Air National Guard has been operating versions of the KC-135 since the 1970s. Their refueling mission has taken the 157th Air Refueling Group of the New Hampshire Air National Guard all over the world.

The dedication of these women and men has played a key role in the United States’ ability to operate a truly worldwide force. These air crews refuel fighters and bombers with dazzling displays of close formation flying while traveling hundreds of miles per hour and staying airborne for many hours at a time. In 1990 this newspaper ran the story of four news photographers that took a ride on one of the Pease KC-135s to cover the departure of FB-111s from Pease. Due to a mechanical issue with another KC-135 the plane the photographers were aboard was pressed into service and continued its refueling mission for over 5 hours.

During Operation Desert Shield the unit proudly served 24 hours a day, with members volunteering for the duty. While things were happening in the Persian Gulf at that time, many Granite Staters watched with pride as the Pease KC-135s were pressed into service, not just refueling planes, but also transporting personnel and goods across the globe.

The 157th will be sporting new tankers soon, the technologically advanced KC-46A. This will allow these aircrews to fulfill their mission well into the future. It will be great to continue seeing gray planes with refueling booms hanging out the back flying low over Interstate 95. Many will not notice that these are different planes. The few that do notice will surely join us in saluting the KC-135s, and more importantly their crews, for more than four decades of a job well done.