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Ellsworth spouses view mission from different perspective

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- A handful of Ellsworth wives did what few Americans get the chance to do Aug. 9 when they flew with the crew of a KC-135R Stratotanker during a routine air-refueling mission of a B-1. 

The incentive flight gave about 10 spouses of B-1 aircrew members a chance to experience a portion of what their significant others do during a 12-hour sortie. 

"As soon as I heard about this, I thought, 'where am I going to find a babysitter,'" said Jennifer Heidema, wife of 1st Lt. Louis Heidema, 37th Bomb Squadron. "It's kind of cool to get the chance to see some of the things he gets to do." 

During the four-hour flight, spouses were allowed to sit in the boom pod with the boom operator and watch the refueling procedure in action. One of the spouses was afforded the extra pleasure of seeing her husband fly first hand. 

"I was thrilled to get the opportunity to see John in flight," said Molly Ferguson, wife of Capt. John Ferguson, 37th BS. "Watching the B-1 flying right next to the tanker, and knowing my husband was it, was a once in a lifetime opportunity." 

For the others, the experience was no less enlightening. 

"It was hard for me to understand why (my husband) would get so excited about refueling," said Gina Fisher, wife of Capt. Brian Fisher, 37th BS. "Until you see it happen, you can't grasp how awesome it is." 

The opportunity to see what their loved ones do while they fly was just one benefit, however. 

"They also got the chance to learn more about the total force concept," said Maj. Larry Shaw, 74th Air Refueling Squadron pilot, Grissom Air Reserve Base, Ind. "We're reservists, and they're active-duty spouses, so a lot of them don't understand the professionalism of reservists and what we bring to the fight." 

Major Shaw's co-pilot stated yet another benefit of the flight. 

"This also gives them a little better understanding of how different airplanes are integrated into the fight," said Maj. John Pannell, 74th ARS pilot. "We're all pieces of the puzzle." 

But, with all the positives this flight generated, there is at least one flier who may regret his wife taking part in the trip. 

"He's got a little less leverage now that I know what he's doing," said Anna Redmon about her husband, Capt. Cecil Redmon of the 37th BS. "I'm going to tell him, 'You get to fly all day!'"