Thursday, July 04, 2013

Singing Soldier storms stages

by Staff Sgt. Wesley Farnsworth
633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

7/4/2013 - FORT EUSTIS, Va. -- Fort Eustis U.S. Army Spc. Reuben Eldridge performed in front of a home crowd of more than 1,300, June 25 at Fourt Eustis, Va., as part of the "Ready and Resilient" 29-base tour.

Eldridge, assigned to the 688th Rapid Port Opening Element, is not only a talented Soldier traveling with the show, but also the Fort Eustis 2012 Operation Rising Star winner. He was ranked one of the top 12 competitors for the Army-wide competition.

"It's a dream come true to be a part of this show," said Eldridge. "I have a passion for singing and performing and I've always wanted to do something with it. Operation Rising Star and this show is a way for me to do that."

"Ready and Resilient" is a high-energy, live musical production that showcases the talents of active duty Soldiers selected by auditions throughout the Army. The 75-minute show is put on by active duty, reserve, and National Guard Soldiers.

Although they are Soldiers first, these artists also have a passion for music, dance and performance, with specialties ranging from information technology to combat medicine; they use music to put an entertaining spin on how Soldiers and their families maintain readiness and resiliency.

Eldridge learned at an early age that he enjoyed singing and had a talent for it.

"My passion [for singing] stems from watching my mother sing with my grandmother. But when I was 14, I learned I had a talent for it," said Eldridge.

This discovery started when Eldridge heard his uncle playing and singing, and decided to sing along. This became a weekly tradition, where eventually family and friends started coming to watch the duo perform.

The performances would become all-day barbeque events, with Eldridge and his uncle singing under the carport for entertainment. Ever since then, he's had a passion for singing.

The Soldier Show was an unexpected step for Eldridge when it came to his singing career.

"I heard about the show before but never really knew much about it," said Eldridge. "When I was at Fort Sam Houston participating as one of the top 12, they asked us to submit an application for the show."

After being accepted to the show and working with the other cast members, Eldridge says that level of professionalism exhibited every day from the other Soldiers has helped him improve as not only a Soldier, but also as a performer.

"I get a chance to perform music that I'm not used to in this show. I'm used to country music where you have a lot of runs, but I do a number during this show ... [which] requires me to actually act it out, and that's something I've never learned how to do," said Eldridge. "Through this show and the other cast members, I've learned about theater and acting and how to incorporate it into my music."

Annetta Thompson from Yorktown, Va., came out to watch the Solder Show at Fort Eustis.

"I absolutely loved the show," said Thompson. "I think the best part was seeing everyone in uniform and being able to shake their hands at the end."

The Soldier Show tour continues, stopping next at Fort Lee, Va. For Elkridge, the remaining performances are just another way for him to showcase his passion.

"The artistic expression of singing drives my passion. Every song means something different to each person," said Eldridge. "Being able to express those feelings is a great outlet for me. It's just like an artist with a paint brush; you can see the expression, but with me, you can hear it."

RPA teams test hunting skills over Nevada range

432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing

7/4/2013 - LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Remotely Piloted Aircraft pilots, sensor operators and intelligence Airmen worked together to fly simulated missions over the Nevada Test and Training Range testing their skills with live bomb drops.

The 432nd Wing hosted the second RPA weapons competition June 23-28. The 432nd Wing Hunt, formerly known as Gun Smoke, consisted of 18 teams from 14 squadrons - 10 MQ-9 Reaper teams and the rest with the MQ-1 Predator. Each team was comprised of a pilot, sensor operator, and intelligence Airman, who worked together to formulate a mission plan, evaluate threats, and develop a strategy to execute the mission effectively.

"It was a total force integration effort with local, geographically separated units and Air Force Reserve units," said Capt. Marcus from the 432nd Operations Support Squadron. "Due to the fiscal constraints, we limited the competition to only aircrews that could do Remote Split Operations from the local area, saving thousands of dollars."

This type of training and friendly competition affords the teams and each individual a scenario they could encounter down range.

"Training on the Nellis Test and Training Range allows RPA crews who typically fly in Afghanistan to practice against different threats and mission sets," Marcus said. "The 432nd Wing Hunt prepares crews for this fight, as well as the next one."

To further the realism and intense competition live GBU-12s, a 500lb laser-guided bomb, were dropped by the MQ-9 in the southern ranges.

"For most of these crews, it was the first time they dropped a live GBU-12," Marcus said. "It's important to give the crews an opportunity to test their skills, and practice tactics before having to go into the next combat environment."

The 432nd Wing Hunt also provides an opportunity for the RPA members to build camaraderie while challenging the squadrons in a realistic and tactical environment.

"Oftentimes, the RPA community fights to train, whereas most military units train to fight," Marcus said. "This competition promotes esprit de corps with a challenging scenario meant to test crew's knowledge, mission planning, and execution to be the best."

Face of Defense: Pilot Fights Cancer, Returns to Duty

By Bekah Clark
12th Flying Training Wing

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas, July 3, 2013 – More than a year ago, Air Force Col. David Drichta was a happy man.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Col. David Drichta returns from his first flight after his battle with cancer at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, on June 19, 2013. Drichta, the 12th Operations Group deputy commander, was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer in February 2012, and after more than a year in recovery was medically cleared to return to flight status. The flight marked his return to flight status as well as his 3,000th flight hour in Air Force aircraft. Courtesy photo by Stacy Nyikos

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Then a lieutenant colonel, he served in a prestigious assignment as the commander of the 435th Fighter Training Squadron here, and looked forward to an even brighter future.
"I was on top of my game and top of the world," Drichta said. "I was flying a great mission with great officers."
But one thing wasn't quite right: Drichta often felt tired.
"Now, all squadron commanders -- by their second year -- are tired," Drichta said. "They either will or won't admit it, but they're getting tired."

Because his daughters recently had strep throat, Drichta assumed he may have caught the infection as well. When medication didn't help, Drichta's doctor referred him to consult with an ear, nose and throat specialist.

Drichta, however, didn't make it to the appointment. Three days later, he started coughing blood.

"I went to the ER [and] they said, 'We have a serious problem here,'" he recalled.

Drichta was told his airway was constricted down to less than the size of a soda straw. A tracheostomy tube -- creating an opening through the neck into the trachea -- and a biopsy confirmed the medical staff's suspicion: Drichta showed a stage IV cancerous tumor.

After the diagnosis, Drichta said, he initially couldn't believe what happening to him. Then came feelings of fear.

"You try not to let your mind go there, but you find yourself thinking, 'I have to tell my family I love them and that I will always love then -- even if I'm not here,'" said Drichta, who said he hesitated to even ask for survival rates for his type of cancer.

His surgeon, Lt. Col. (Dr.) Cecelia Schmalbach, sensed his concern, Drichta said.

"She told me, 'I could tell you the percentage of patients who live through this -- but, really, when it comes down to it ... It's either 100 percent or it's zero percent for you,'" Drichta recalled. "[Then she said,] 'You're either going to live or you're going to die. So let's focus on the 100 percent.'"
This set the tone for his fight, said Drichta, who soon had to give up his command position and Air War College assignment to battle his cancer.

Due to the location of his tumor, doctors could not operate without permanently damaging Drichta's ability to speak and swallow. Instead, Drichta had to undergo an aggressive course of chemotherapy and concurrent daily radiation exposure to fight the tumor's progress.

"They said it was going to be hell," Drichta said. "And it was. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy ... but that was the means to the end. I needed to be a father and a husband, so we hit it with everything the doctors had, hoping for the best."

The daily doses of radiation soon gave Drichta second-degree burns inside and outside his throat and mouth. His skin and gums began bleeding and falling away. Unable to swallow, he relied on a stomach feeding tube for three months.

But his doctors warned him that it would get worse before he could hope for improvement.
"There were points where I was so drained I literally would lay in bed and think, 'I don't know if I can move my legs and arms right now,'" Drichta said. "I'd go to take a shower and that would be all I could do for the entire day -- the entire day."

After additional hospitalization for complications of the treatment, Drichta began a slow ascent to recovery. Then, after months of treatment, doctors approached Drichta with great news: the tumor had disappeared and his lymph nodes were also visibly free of cancerous growth.

Although the news was good, Drichta's lymph nodes were enlarged and required another surgery to check for cancer spread.

"Scarring from radiation and previous cancerous lymph nodes had wrapped around my jugular vein and the nerve bundle that controls my left arm," Drichta said. "If [the surgeon] had missed at all, I may not have been able to use that arm [anymore]."

Drichta, however, emerged from the surgery with full movement of his arm and negative cancer pathology. Later in the same month, he received his promotion to colonel.

Looking back on his care, Drichta said the support he received from his Air Force family was invaluable.

"We talk a lot about being good wingmen ... but I saw it in action," Drichta said. "From the wing commander, vice commander and operations group commander in my room ... telling me everything was going to be OK and they'd take it from here, to [my brothers] in squadrons far and wide sending emails.

"Everybody was taking care my wife, my kids and me because I couldn't," he continued. "The wingman concept -- caring for your fellow human being -- is a part of who we are. This is what we do."

More than a year after his diagnosis, Drichta's return to flight status remained in question. Once again, doctors went to work and began to evaluate his health -- and finally recommended his return to flight status under the condition he passed certain tests.

"I went to the centrifuge and was medially monitored," Drichta said. "We did the standard T-38 [Talon] profile: up to seven-and-a-half Gs. We did everything just like anyone going through that profile. And my body worked great."

Surrounded by family and friends, Drichta marked his return to flight status June 19, with his first T-38 flight since his diagnosis.

"This flight was 484 days after my last flight, my 3,000th hour of flight time in an Air Force aircraft and a flight that cancer tried to steal away from me last spring," Drichta said.

As for the future, Drichta looks forward to an upcoming Air War College class, beginning this summer.

"I don't know where I'll end up the next couple of assignments, but I absolutely have a story to share and a duty to use the perspective I've gained to help others around me," the colonel said. "My resilience is a direct result of so many individuals carrying me through. They are phenomenal wingmen and flight leads in every sense."

Ceremony honors North Carolina Guard members killed in firefighting air crash

by Maj. Anthony Deiss
South Dakota National Guard

7/2/2013 - EDGEMONT, S.D. -- A memorial ceremony was held Monday to dedicate an interpretive site that honors the airmen of the North Carolina Air National Guard C-130 aircraft that crashed one year ago Monday while fighting the White Draw Fire near Edgemont.

Four members of the six-person Modular Airborne Firefighting System 7 (MAFFS-7) aircrew died when strong winds out of a thunderstorm caused their air tanker to impact the ground on a ridge top northeast of Edgemont.

"We are honoring these six North Carolina Guardsmen for their heroism and we are dedicating this site so that people will remember them forever," said South Dakota Lt. Gov. Matt Michels during the ceremony. "It is impossible for any words to pass my lips that can express our incredible gratitude for the sacrifices that these men have made...but they will always be remembered by this memorial."

The MAFFS-7 C-130 aircraft that crashed was from the NCANG's145th Airlift Wing based at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Killed were Lt. Col. Paul Mikeal, 42, of Mooresville; Maj. Joseph McCormick, 36, of Belmont; Maj. Ryan David, 35, of Boone; and Senior Master Sgt. Robert Cannon, 50, of Charlotte. Two survived but were seriously injured -- Chief Master Sgt. Andy Huneycutt of Lancaster and Sgt. Josh Marlowe of Shelby.

More than 100 family members, friends and colleagues were present for the ceremony and to see the unveiling of the interpretive signs. Located approximately seven miles north of Edgemont along Hwy 18, the interpretive site overlooks the ridge where the aircraft crashed while dropping fire retardant on the White Draw Fire.

"None of them took off that day to become heroes, in fact they would all tell us assuredly if they were here that they were simply answering a call to duty," said Maj. Gen. Gregory Lusk, adjutant general of the N.C. National Guard. "They were simply doing the job they all love to do. As we pay tribute to the crew - by commemorating on the anniversary this site - we acknowledge that they join a very long line of Minutemen who have for over 376 years done exactly what they did; just answer the call of the neighbor in need, service to the community and service to our nation."

"I recall that first approach by a large air tanker, the roar of the props and turbines above the treetops...time and again, I witnessed how well it helped ground firefighters," Black Hills National Forest Supervisor Craig Bobzien said of the MAFFS-7 aircrew. "Our purpose today probes deeper. We are peering into the tiny windows and inside the aircraft at the humans and focusing on the crew of MAFFS-7 - protecting our freedom and protecting us from peril. They served with honor and we are here to honor them."

The construction of the interpretive site and signs were a collaborative effort between the South Dakota National Guard and Black Hills National Forest officials. The interpretive site includes a parking area and signs that tell the story of the fire and the fatal accident.

"The unveiling of this marker here today will assure that these heroes will indeed live forever," said Maj. Gen. Lusk. "To the families of these brave men, just know that we will always remember and acknowledge your sacrifices and your service, every step of the way. I hope from your perspective this dedication is indeed the legacies of your husbands, and that it is fair to say that the citizens of North Carolina and the citizens of South Dakota will forever share a kindred bond."

Dyess sets world record aircraft formation at JOAX

by Airman 1st Class Damon Kasberg
7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

7/2/2013 - POPE FIELD, N.C. -- Members from Team Dyess flew to Pope Field, N. C., June 19, 2013, in support of Joint Operational Access Exercise 13-03.

JOAX is a 12-day combined military training exercise designed to prepare Airmen and Soldiers to respond to worldwide crises and contingencies.

"This was the largest JOAX since September 2011," said Major Josh Leibel, 317th AG. "Servicemembers from all across the Air Force and Army came together to make the exercise possible."

Dyess supported JOAX with 20 C-130Js and 87 aircrew members, which delivered Soldiers and equipment to multiple drop zones.

"During the exercise the 317th AG set a world record for the largest C-130J formation," Leibel said. "Just as impressive as the 20-ship formation, our aircrew delivered 2,426 paratroopers and more than 140 tons of equipment to support the Army's training."

Not only did Dyess support the exercise with aircrew and aircraft, servicemembers on the ground worked nonstop to ensure operations went smoothly.

"I'm very proud of everything these guys did," said Senior Master Sgt. Rodney Jones, 317th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. "They worked hard every day and every night to get the aircraft ready to go. I look forward to deploying with them."

"Once the engines started cranking up I got goose bumps," said Airman 1st Class Matthew Martin, 317th AMXS. "It was such a good feeling seeing the largest C-130J formation fly out knowing we all did this. It made all the hard work we put in worth it."

Exercises such as JOAX give Dyess servicemembers the unique opportunity to train as a team with other military branches.

"This training is very important," said Senior Airman Jamie Richardson-Granger, 317th AG loadmaster. "I've learned a lot since I've been out here. We actually get to see more of the real-world equipment we would drop operationally, things that aren't normally available to us at home station."

It's good to come out here and see how the Army and Air Force coordinate," he added. "Both branches worked together to ensure training requirements were met."

While JOAX plays a vital role in keeping U.S. military members trained and proficient, it's increasingly difficult to financially support these exercises under sequestration. However, Team Dyess was able to work through these constraints.

"About this time last year Dyess 317th was tasked as the lead unit for JOAX 13-03," Leibel said. "A few months ago it became apparent that under current government financial limitations that reaching the objective for both the Air Force and Army would require some creative options and divergence from the normal way of executing operations and exercises especially of this size.

"Through collaberation with the Army, our fiscal saving measures resulted in the exercise bed down cost of about $65,000 which is a 76.6 percent reduction and savings of around $215,000," he added.

Air Force brat breathes life, experiences into comic book heroine

by Master Sgt. Brannen Parrish
931 Air Refueling Group Public Affairs

7/3/2013 - MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- Like Moirai or "Fates" of Greek mythology, comic book writers have near autonomy over the lives of the characters inhabiting their universe. Subject only to the managing editor who, like Zeus, can affect the direction of the hero's narrative, the writer leads characters from one interaction to another, battling enemies or assisting friends.

Kelly Sue DeConnick grew up on Air Force bases around the world and draws on those experiences to weave the fabric of the Air Force's most famous super hero - Carol Danvers - the new Captain Marvel.

"Kelly has always struck me as proud of her Air Force childhood, so maybe she's a little more comfortable with characters of that nature," said Robert DeConnick, Kelly's father, a retired master sergeant who served as a Russian linguist during his 20-year Air Force career.

The magazine rack at in the Stars and Stripes bookstore on Hahn Air Base in Germany seemed "ginormous" to the little girl who found joy in the stories. The base is closed, but memories of it linger.

"I remember very well comics and Hahn AFB in Germany specifically being closely linked," said Kelly Sue. "They had a tremendous comic section. Maybe this is my 'child's memory but it was huge! There were comics on one side and magazines on the other. That was how I spent my allowance."

As with any hobby, community can play a major role in a child's level of interest. Kelly Sue said a great deal of her exposure to comics began with family friends stationed at Hahn AB. One of the families had a large comic book collection.

"I would go to their house after school, and they had tons of comics," said Kelly Sue. "They had a girl my age named Missy, and her two older brothers were into comics. Missy and I were like 'anything you can do, we can do too.' So, we read comics with them. I remember one of the brothers had the DC horror anthologies. They scared me to death, but I loved them. They were a fun family. "

For 45 cents, Kelly Sue could engross herself in the adventures of super heroes and super heroines. Her mother encouraged her to become a fan of the genre.

"It was the 70s; there was a feminist movement. I think my mom had the notion that 'Wonder Woman' was a feminist to me," said Kelly Sue. "If I did my chores, she would dole out Wonder Woman comics as a reward."

Today, Kelly Sue authors the "Captain Marvel" and "Avengers Assemble" series for Marvel Comics.

She didn't start out with the goal of writing Captain Marvel. When she approached Marvel Comics managing editor, Stephen Wacker, about writing the character, Carol Danvers' alter ego, Danvers was still using the alias "Ms. Marvel."

"When I pitched the book, I pitched 'Ms Marvel,'" said Kelly Sue. "When I got the phone call from Stephen Wacker, he messed with me. He said 'So, you're not going to be writing Ms. Marvel ... because you're writing Captain Marvel.'"

According to comic book canon, Captain Marvel was a Kree superhero named Mar-Vell who died in 1982. The Kree are an alien species in the Marvel Universe. While working with Mar-Vell, an explosion fused Mar-Vell's Kree genes with Danvers' genes. When Danvers realized the experience left her with super powers, she took the alias "Ms. Marvel."

For all of Mar-Vell's superpowers and resistance to external trauma, his own cells plotted a traitorous and suicidal course against him, refusing to fall in line with his body's natural defenses. Ultimately, the cellular traitors killed Mar-Vell and themselves.

"The character Mar-Vell died many years ago, but he didn't die from some horrible villain. Mar-Vell died of cancer, and it was beautiful and sad and had some meaning," said Kelly Sue. "There have been other people who had the title but Carol got her powers from Mar-Vell. So, it made sense in the world for her to take this mantle."

A post-mortem Mar-Vell appeared in various storylines and comics, even returning from the land of the dead, but Wacker felt it was Danvers' turn to take the Captain Marvel title. A new alias would not be the only change.

Since 1981, Ms. Marvel had been associated with a costume designed by Dave Cockrum, the son of an Air Force lieutenant colonel.

Cockrum designed Ms. Marvel's outfit as a one-piece bathing suit. While alluring, it provided Ms. Marvel with minimal posterior coverage. Wacker told Kelly Sue he wanted a design he could feel comfortable having his daughter wear. After reviewing submissions, they selected a design by Jamie McKelvie, which comprised at least twice as much fabric of the old.

"The comment about my daughter, and really anyone's daughter, had mostly to do with the costume. While I think Dave Cockrum's Ms. Marvel design is elegant, like all his designs, I also think that it is of its time and has held the character back, at least slightly, in a world now where women and girls make up more and more of our reading audience. I wanted a Marvel costume that a little girl could proudly wear on Halloween and thanks to the great design of Jamie McKelvie, we got it!"

From Kelly Sue's perspective, the Ms. Marvel outfit needed to be revamped. It needed to be something that fit her personality, and she didn't see an Air Force officer going to work in that old outfit.

"She wouldn't call it a costume, she would call it a uniform," said Kelly Sue. "If you look at the new outfit, it's sort of like a flight suit."

According to the Marvel storyline, Carol Danvers joined the Air Force after high school. Though she worked hard and earned better grades than her brothers earn, her father didn't support the idea of women's education. Carol enlisted in the Air Force and performed so well that she was eventually recruited by the intelligence community for service as a special operations intelligence officer.

She worked as a spy in clandestine operations before NASA recognized her potential and recruited her to serve as head of security for NASA.

Danvers retired at the rank of colonel and eventually left NASA to pursue work in the private sector. She has worked in numerous fields from journalism to aviation and held many aliases, including "Binary," "War Bird," "Ms. Marvel" and now, "Captain Marvel."

Kelly Sue said she considers Danvers' Air Force service to be an important part of her personality, and she likes to intertwine references to that service. In one storyline, Danvers wears an Air Force T-shirt. In a conversation with Captain America, she informs the soldier that she outranks him.

"I think it's a big part of her personality. I can always tell when military people come up to my table at a convention because there is that, 'yes ma'am, no ma'am'," said Kelly Sue. "When you are active military, it's a big part of your personality. She's not active military anymore but she was for so many years that I don't think it stops. I'm 42 now; my dad retired when I was 20 and he still carries himself like he's in the service."

Danvers has battled external and internal villains. The character has not been immune to human frailties. She has struggled with an alcohol addiction, and Kelly Sue described her as, "an adrenaline junkie" who sometimes misuses her superpowers in order to get thrills.

"She likes to fly as high as she can until she passes out and then lets herself fall and gets boosted by the friction energy that she absorbs but that's kind of a jacked up thing to do," said Kelly Sue. "That's a different kind of chemical high."

According to Staff Sgt. Dylan Bolander, a broadcaster with 3rd Combat Camera Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio, and a fan of the series, Danvers' shortcomings only endears the character to readers. For him, she represents a hero whose humanity shows through, and someone Airmen can learn from.

"As far as literary characters go, she's a great representation for the Air Force," said Bolander. "She's presented as a strong female, but she has flaws. If I were an 18-year-old who was learning what the Air Force is all about, I'd have a role model in Carol Danvers."

The transitional life of a military child is not easy. According to the US Census Bureau, the average American will move about 2.5 times by the age of 18. The average military child will move more than 2.5 times before completing the sixth grade. Writing about the life of a retired Airman, even a fictional character, is both a reward and responsibility for Kelly Sue.

Just as the comic book genre helped Kelly Sue cope with the mobile lifestyle and transitions, she now has a responsibility to readers with similar backgrounds.

Polly Ann Bauer, Kelly Sue's mother, said reading comics was one way her daughter managed the transitions.

"Moving schools frequently is the way of life as a military family. It's not always easy to uproot to a new home and a new school," said Bauer. "I think Kelly's love of comics and her joy of reading eased some difficult situations. Regardless, Kelly Sue was extremely proud of her father and his commitment to the Air Force. Her choice of Carol Danvers, an independent, strong female and retired colonel, seems perfectly natural and it seems natural that Kelly would unleash Carol as 'Earth's Mightiest Hero'!"

Though Kelly Sue's experiences as an Air Force 'brat' allows her to bring a unique and relevant dimension to her story telling, Wacker did not take that into considerations when he selected her to write the Captain Marvel saga.

"I didn't know about it when I hired Kelly Sue, but I think it comes through on every page. As an editor you depend on the writers making a personal connection to the characters, and I sure got lucky in this case," said Wacker.

Currently, Kelly Sue is the writer most closely associated with Carol Danvers and Captain Marvel, but she recognizes that her role as a weaver of the story is not permanent as it is with the Fates.

Kelly Sue brings her perspective - a perspective shaped by an early life of transitions and all of her experiences since - experiences very similar to, and very different from that of every military child.

"We have to remember that none of us owns any of these characters. These characters don't belong to us. Someone wrote them before us, and someone will write them after us. They belong to Marvel Comics," said Kelly Sue. "Marvel Comics is the longest-running continuous narrative in human history. It is 70 years of story, which is pretty amazing. It is a distinct honor to be a part of that, but you also have to remember that you are pretty tiny part of it."

Recent Academy grad now DOD's top women's triathlete

by Senior Airman Mariah Tolbert
4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

7/3/2013 - SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. (AFNS) -- Her heart beats faster and faster and beads of sweat drip down her face, as she sprints toward the finish line just seconds ahead of several other competitors.

2nd Lt. Samantha Morrison, a recent graduate of the Air Force Academy, grew up the oldest of seven children that were all devoted and competitive swimmers and is now an avid competitor in triathlons, representing the Air Force.

Morrison competed and won the Armed Forces National Championships in her first race as an active duty Air Force officer. She finished this race, which involved a 1k swim, 40k bike and 10k run in 2:07.39, making her the fastest woman triathlete in the Department of Defense and the third fastest woman triathlete in the world.

"My siblings and I spent over 20 hours per week training with our local club swim team," Morrison said. "My parents pushed us to be our best, stay fit and get into the habit of an active lifestyle. I hated my dad every Saturday morning at 5 a.m. when he would wake me up to go to practice, but I thank him for it now."

At the age of 15, Morrison saw an ad in the newspaper for a half marathon and was determined to give it a try.

"I told my dad I was going to try it; he told me there was no way that I could finish a crazy race like that, so I was motivated to prove him wrong," she explained.

According to her resume, Morrison is in her seventh year of competing in triathlons. She was recruited to run Division I cross country and track at the Academy. After only one season, she decided that triathlon racing was her true passion.

With the support of her friends and family, she continues to thrive as a competitor and an officer in the U.S. Air Force.

"It is hard for me to balance my family and friends with my training schedule," Morrison said. "I end up spending all of my 'friend' time working out with them, then we are too exhausted to do other fun things. My family has started to get into the sport, so my dad will bike with me and my sisters run alongside as well. This helps with being able to balance both."

A 10k run, 40k bike and a 1k swim, seems like an exhausting task, add competing and fighting for a top 3 position among hundreds of other participants to that task and it seems rather daunting, however, Morrison trains for nearly 25 hours a week in order to triumph in these triathlons.

She said that her typical workout routine involves swimming for about an hour in the morning, then a two-hour run or bike. She also incorporates crossfit and weight training in order to avoid injury and stay strong, but getting into this routine wasn't the easiest thing to do.

"I think that starting the routine is the hardest part, but once you suck it up for a week or two, you'll feel like you are missing a part of your life if you miss a workout," she said. "Just give the active lifestyle a 7-day shot, and you'll get addicted, in a good way."

Morrison is slated to arrive at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, in August of 2013. While on station, Morrison will be part of the public affairs team and live the motto of "4th but First" by being the fastest person within the DoD.

In October, she will race in the Ironman World Championships for the second time. However, this year she competes representing the entire Air Force, as their chosen women's representative.

"I hope that [competing in triathlons] helps me in my public affairs career by showing people that I am dedicated to whatever I do in life," Morrison said. "I want to make the Air Force a career, but by competing in triathlons on the side I hope it helps me stay active and busy. When I am busy it makes me do a better job at everything in life."

First KC-46 build begins

by Daryl Mayer
88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

7/1/2013 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Boeing's announcement this past week that they have begun assembly of the first KC-46 wing spar is a significant event for the Air Force tanker program. It marks the start of assembly of the first KC-46 Engineering and Manufacturing Development aircraft.

"We are excited and pleased that KC-46 fabrication has begun. The Boeing team continues to make significant progress in the development of the Air Force's next tanker," said Maj. Gen. John Thompson, Program Executive Officer for Tankers at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center. "The development effort is on track, detailed test planning is making good progress, and initial beddown, training and sustainment planning is underway."

The Air Force is about a third of the way into the KC-46 tanker development program. The Air Force contracted with Boeing in February 2011 to acquire 179 KC-46 Tankers to begin recapitalizing the more than 50-year-old KC-135 fleet. The initial delivery target is for 18 tankers by 2017. Production will then ramp up to deliver all 179 tankers by 2028.

The aircraft being produced at the Boeing factory in Everett, Wash., is a commercial derivative design based on the Boeing 767-200ER passenger aircraft. When the aircraft comes off the Everett production line, it will be a 767-2C Provisioned Freighter that will eventually become a military-configured KC-46 tanker.

The first fully equipped KC-46 is slated to fly in early 2015.