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Retired Beale Bandits are Reunited with a KC-135 Stratotanker they Serviced 46 Years Ago.

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Shawn Monk
  • 171st Air Refueling Wing
U.S. Air Force retired Master Sgt. Robert Bragg Jr. from Ohio and retired Sgt. Tom Lacey from Virginia were reunited with a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft September 24, 2013. Bragg and Lacey were stationed at Beale Air Force Base, California in the late sixties. They were both "ground crew," meaning they performed preflight and post flight inspections, regularly scheduled maintenance, and engine performance checks to the KC-135 Stratotankers. Bragg and Lacey were supporting a unique mission in those days; it was their KC-135 that refueled the SR-71 Blackbird aircraft. "The tankers then were chasing the Blackbirds all over the world refilling their fuel tanks in-flight as they flew their missions in secret," said Lacey. Bragg and Lacey retired from the Air Force in the mid-eighties expecting never see the aircraft again.

Forty four years later Bragg learned about the location of one of the aircraft he worked on when he attended an airshow. He learned that the aircraft he worked on was assigned to the 171st Air Refueling Wing near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and he posted a story about it on a website. His old friend Tom Lacey saw the website and contacted Bragg and discussed the possibility of seeing the KC-135 now known as "Steel City Pride." Lacey contacted the 171st Air Refueling Wing and was granted permission for the two to visit the base and see the aircraft they worked on 46 years ago.

During their visit they boarded "Steel City Pride." Lacey joked, "I'm sure we must have looked like a couple of nut cases running around that plane." The two recalled memories and shared stories with their counterparts from the 171st Air Refueling Wing. They noticed all the upgrades that have been made since the late sixties and were amazed at how much remained the same. "After retiring in 1985 I thought that ever seeing my old plane again was just a dream. You made that dream come true and made two old Beale Bandits very happy to relive some great moments in our lives, it was truly a great day...thanks for one of the greatest day of my life." said Bragg. Lacey remarked, "it was a dream come true for us both and an experience that will be remembered as one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. My memories of my time in the Air Force with those tankers are as fresh in my mind today as back in '67,'68, and '69, as are all 21 tail numbers. Funny how some things just stay with you, no matter how old you are, and Bobby and I are 67 years old now."

The KC-135R/T Stratotankers at the 171st Air Refueling Wing are about 60 years old now. In a unique way Robert Bragg and Tom Lacey have contributed to the 171st mission with thorough service all those years ago.