Capt. Chuck Remboldt admits he sounds a little sappy when he talks about the Air National Guard.
"Since I've been in the unit, it's given me a place to belong, and it's good for the country," the Lawrence pilot said. "The more you stay in, the more you feel part of the family."
That camaraderie made Saturday's pomp seem that much more important, as Remboldt's 190th Air Refueling Wing received the Air Force's Outstanding Unit Award.
The Topeka-based wing which includes about 50 Lawrence residents received the award for its accomplishments from Jan. 1, 1999, to July 31, 2000. During that time, its KC-135 tankers refueled planes over Bosnia in Operation Deliberate Forge, over Iraq in Operation Northern Watch and over Yugoslavia in Operation Allied Force.
The 190th, which is based at Forbes Field in Topeka, was one of two refueling groups to receive the award.
"It's just kind of a nice pat on the back for a job well done," said Remboldt, a 17-year Air National Guard veteran. "What we did in the last year was above and beyond what most units did."
The 190th wing has 11 KC-135 tankers that each take off with 32,000 gallons of fuel. They rendezvous with other aircraft thousands of feet in the air traveling about 450 miles per hour. An operator sits in the tail of the KC-135 and uses a joystick to maneuver a gas line called a "boom" into the top of the other aircraft to transfer fuel. The tanker can dispense as much fuel in eight minutes as a traditional convenience store pump can in 24 hours.
Remboldt, who also flew during the Gulf War and in the 1995 mission in Bosnia to rescue downed Air Force Capt. Scott O'Grady, is one of about 300 full-time Air National Guard members in Topeka. Another 650 are part-timers who serve one weekend a month and two weeks a year.
Maj. Cathy Hambleton is one of those balancing civilian and military careers. During the week, she flies a regional plane for American Eagle and is a graduate student in physiology at Kansas University. On weekends, she is a navigator on a KC-135.
"I joined the Guard to fly," she said. "I love to travel. I love the excitement. ... It's aggressive. It's a dynamic environment. It's a challenge. And it's hard to balance."
Capt. Chuck Remboldt
Capt. Jeff Warrender of Lawrence joined the Guard in 1992 to help him pay for college. But he's stayed on since 1992 because he's enjoyed his experience, which has included flying over Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia.
"It's a fun job," he said. "It's fun to go all around the world."
Maj. Ken Oliver, another Lawrence resident, also joined the Guard in 1984 to help him pay his way through KU. He's remained a member, even though his job as a Southwest Airlines pilot already keeps him away from his family more than he likes.
"It goes back to loyalty," he said. "I wouldn't have been able to finish college. I was through with my obligation about 10 years ago. But they were there when I needed them."