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Home : News : State Partnership Program
NEWS | April 10, 2024

Illinois Air Guard Supports Partner Poland

By Master Sgt. Brian Ellison, 126th Air Refueling Wing

POWIDZ, Poland - The 126th Air Refueling Wing completed a two-week deployment to Poland in support of Operation Copper Arrow.

The operation enhanced combat readiness among NATO allies and partner nations, enabling them to respond to any threat rapidly. Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve aerial refueling tankers, KC-135s, KC-10s and KC-46s, supported Copper Arrow on a two-week rotational basis.

“The Copper Arrow mission has been highly successful,” said Lt. Col. Spencer Leidel, the 108th Air Refueling Squadron commander, “fulfilling all of the required objectives for United States Air Forces in Europe, European Command and the eastern European theater.”

The wing also provided much-needed nighttime aerial refueling training for the Polish Air Force, Illinois’ partner in the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program. 

“It becomes a team effort between both the boom operator and the receiver pilot to coordinate, make sure that they’re in the proper position for optimal refueling,” Leidel said.

On the ground, members of the 126th met with their Polish counterparts to discuss further ways to expand their partnership.

“Talking to our logistics readiness squadron commander, our civil engineer commander, as well as our aircraft maintenance squadron commander, we’ve identified specific opportunities,” said Maj. Mike McCarthy, maintenance squadron commander. “We can either do some annual training or bring a deployment for training here.”

The deployment had some challenges. A part broke on one of the two planes. After some searching, a spare part was found at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, and installed a few days later.

“It was a very good team effort,” McCarthy said. “Yesterday afternoon for a few hours it was all hands on deck. We had every maintainer that was here on this trip out there. Definitely a lot of coordination and a lot of hard work that went in from a lot of different agencies to make that happen.”

McCarthy said the Illinois Air National Guard looks forward to continuing to strengthen its relationship with Poland.