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6th ARW leaders visit ‘Black Knights’

U.S. Air Force Col. Ben Jonsson, 6th Air Refueling Wing commander and Chief Master Sgt. Shae Gee, 6th Air Refueling Wing command chief attend a pre-flight briefing, March 30, 2021, at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.

U.S. Air Force Col. Ben Jonsson, 6th Air Refueling Wing commander and Chief Master Sgt. Shae Gee, 6th Air Refueling Wing command chief attend a pre-flight briefing, March 30, 2021, at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. The 6th Air Refueling Wing command team departed MacDill to visit the 117th ARW and the 99th Air Refueling Squadron at Sumpter Smith Joint National Guard Base, in Birmingham, Ala. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shannon Bowman)

U.S. Air Force Col. Ben Jonsson, 6th Air Refueling Wing commander operates the controls of a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft, March 30, 2021.

U.S. Air Force Col. Ben Jonsson, 6th Air Refueling Wing commander operates the controls of a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft, March 30, 2021. During the departure from MacDill, aircrew conducted air refueling flight training and the 6th ARW command team made a stop at Sumpter Smith Joint National Guard Base, in Birmingham, Ala., for a visit with the 117th ARW and the 99th Air Refueling Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shannon Bowman)

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Shae Gee, 6th Air Refueling Wing command chief looks on as Airman Keegan Salas, a 50th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, operates the controls on the boom of a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft, March 30, 2021.

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Shae Gee, 6th Air Refueling Wing command chief looks on as Airman Keegan Salas, a 50th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, operates the controls on the boom of a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft, March 30, 2021. The 6th ARW aircrew conducted air refueling training, and the 6th ARW command team made a stop at Sumpter Smith Joint National Guard Base, in Birmingham, Ala., for a visit with the 117th ARW and the 99th Air Refueling Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shannon Bowman)

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Shae Gee, 6th Air Refueling Wing command chief delivers remarks during an all call, at Sumpter Smith Joint National Guard Base, in Birmingham, Ala., March 30, 2021.

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Shae Gee, 6th Air Refueling Wing command chief delivers remarks during an all call, at Sumpter Smith Joint National Guard Base, in Birmingham, Ala., March 30, 2021. The 6th ARW command team traveled to Sumpter Smith JNGB to engage with Airmen, and view daily operations within the 99th ARS, which is a geographically separated unit that functions administratively under of the 6th Air Refueling Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shannon Bowman)

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Shae Gee, 6th Air Refueling Wing command chief greets Airmen assigned to the 99th Air Refueling Squadron, at Sumpter Smith Joint National Guard Base, in Birmingham, Ala., March 30, 2021.

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Shae Gee, 6th Air Refueling Wing command chief greets Airmen assigned to the 99th Air Refueling Squadron, at Sumpter Smith Joint National Guard Base, in Birmingham, Ala., March 30, 2021. The 6th ARW command team traveled to Sumpter Smith JNGB to engage with Airmen, and view daily operations within the 99th ARS, which is a geographically separated unit that functions administratively under of the 6th Air Refueling Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shannon Bowman)

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Wade Claussen, 99th Air Refueling Squadron superintendent, Chief Master Sgt. Shae Gee, 6th Air Refueling Wing command chief, Lt. Col. Doug Curran, 99th ARS commander and Col. Ben Jonsson, 6th ARW commander pause for a photo on the flight line at Sumpter Smith Joint National Guard Base, in Birmingham, Ala., March 30, 2021.

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Wade Claussen, 99th Air Refueling Squadron superintendent, Chief Master Sgt. Shae Gee, 6th Air Refueling Wing command chief, Lt. Col. Doug Curran, 99th ARS commander and Col. Ben Jonsson, 6th ARW commander pause for a photo on the flight line at Sumpter Smith Joint National Guard Base, in Birmingham, Ala., March 30, 2021. The 6th ARW command team made a stop at Sumpter Smith Joint National Guard Base, for a visit with the 117th ARW and the 99th Air Refueling Squadron, which functions administratively under MacDill Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shannon Bowman)

U.S. Air Force Col. Ben Jonsson, 6th Air Refueling Wing commander and Chief Master Sgt. Shae Gee, 6th Air Refueling Wing command chief pause for a photo with 6th Operations Group aircrew and 6th Maintenance Group crew chiefs March 30, 2021, at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.

U.S. Air Force Col. Ben Jonsson, 6th Air Refueling Wing commander and Chief Master Sgt. Shae Gee, 6th Air Refueling Wing command chief pause for a photo with 6th Operations Group aircrew and 6th Maintenance Group crew chiefs March 30, 2021, at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. The MacDill Airmen conducted air refueling flight training and the 6th ARW command team completed a visit with the 117th ARW and the 99th Air Refueling Squadron at Sumpter Smith Joint National Guard Base, in Birmingham, Ala. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shannon Bowman)

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The 6th Air Refueling Wing command team traveled to Sumpter Smith Joint National Guard Base, Ala. for an immersion tour with the 117th ARW and the 99th Air Refueling Squadron Mar. 30, 2021.

The “Black Knights” of the 99th ARS is an active associate unit stationed at Birmingham, Ala. but functions administratively under the 6th ARW at MacDill. The 99th ARS works with, supports and flies the 117th ARW’s KC-135R Stratotanker aircraft.

“Although we are geographically separated, you’re still our active duty Airmen and we want to make sure that we're affording you every professional development opportunity possible,” said Jonsson. “In an administrative role as your active duty command team, that's our commitment to you. We need to know if we're coming up short and how we can make sure that we help you develop as Airmen.”

With 115 Airmen assigned to 24 different Air Force Specialties, the 99th ARS supports Air Mobility Command’s priorities through deployments in support of wartime operations, and participation in joint and inter-service exercises.

“We understand that your team is sort of out here on an island away from an active duty base and we want to help you in any way we can,” said Gee. “So, if you see things that can be improved on or can help make your jobs easier, let us know so we can help your leadership and get those issues taken care of for you.”

The 99th ARS operates closely with the 117th ARW as part of the Air Force’s total force integration initiative, which aims to improve the Air Force’s ability to accomplish its mission through the sharing of aircrews, aircraft and other resources.

The 117th Air Refueling Wing can trace its roots back to a World War I era flying club. The Birmingham Flying Club, also known as the Escadrille's, was the seventh federally recognized flying squadron on January 21, 1922 by the United States War Department. Maj. James A. Meissner, a World War I ace who had flown with Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, led the effort to form the unit and served as its first commander.

During World War II, the observation mission expanded to include fighters and bombers. After WWII, the squadron was reorganized into the 117th Fighter Group, which quickly became the 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing. In 1994, the unit began flying the KC-135R Stratotankers and was redesignated as the 117th Air Refueling Wing.

During 2020, the 99th ARS and 106th ARS assigned to Sumpter Smith JNGB completed a total of 812 flight sorties and accumulated 3,783 flying hours.

According to Lt. Col. Doug Curran, 99th ARS commander, the integration between the 99th ARS and the 117th ARW is so seamless, that at times it is difficult to differentiate which units their Airmen are assigned to.

“Support from the sixth and 117th has enabled a lot of what we have been able to do and the support goes both ways,” said Curran.

Upon departure from Sumpter Smith JNGB, the 6th ARW’s command team expressed how impressed they were with the total force integration that occurs on a daily basis between the 117th ARW and 99th ARS.

“Thank you for the commitment you’ve made to support and defend our Constitution and the sacrifices you’ve made, the sacrifices of your family and in a certain extent, the sacrifices you made by being here, away from a traditional support structure,” said Jonsson. “We salute you, thank you and I look forward to seeing you again soon.”

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