It’s days like these when I’m reminded that working at the Pentagon has its perks. Yesterday I drove out to Andrews Air Force Base with our Pentagon reporter, Jennifer Griffin, to tag along with members of the D.C. Air National Guard as they flew routine missions to protect the skies over Washington, D.C. Needless to say this ordeal was anything but routine for the two of us.
Jennifer and I split up when we got to the base with plans to meet later in the air. While Jennifer underwent a medical evaluation in preparation for her flight on board an F-16, I got briefed by the flight crew operating the KC-135 refueling tanker. Jennifer took off first and flew to New York City in a matter of only a few minutes. Our cameraman David Williams and I left shortly afterward in the tanker with the mission of meeting Jennifer’s F-16 over Chesapeake Bay to refuel.
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Hooking up with that jet in midair was unlike any technologic feat I’ve seen. We laid on the belly of the tanker and watched as our pilot, Senior Master Sgt. Rocky Rollins, guided the boom into a small hole behind the cockpit of the F-16. Within minutes we’d refueled two jets, and then they were gone. I was hoping to get a longer look at the planes, but the pilot told me it’s not safe for them to fly them at such slow speeds. I’m thinking Jennifer (call sign: “Puke”) had wished that wasn’t true.
Before returning to base, Jennifer’s jet intercepted a wayward civilian aircraft, provided for training purposes by the Civilian Air Patrol. All this was part of Operation Noble Eagle, NORAD’s commitment to protect American skies that began on September 14, 2001. Since then the Air Force has flown over a million missions in the Global War on Terror.