Hometown Hero: Cathy McClain
Her 25-year military career and service has taken her all over the world. She was deployed on different occasions after the War on Terror. She's even been stationed at the Pentagon, but she was first stationed here in Wichita.
Meet Cathy McClain, this week's "Hometown Hero!"
"They were about half that size when I started flying them, in fact, I had a year under my belt of flying the smaller engines and then transitioning," Cathy McClain said as she describes the current engines on a KC-135.
The KC-135 is a plane, in which she has logged over 2,600 flying hours.
She's taken one almost everywhere and she's even flown one over enemy lines post 9/11. It's an aircraft she knows front to back. She says prior to 9/11, tankers didn't cross into the combat area, they would refuel outside of it, but that changed after September 11th, 2001.
"The Boom Operator is actually laying on their belly," she explained. "We can refuel fighters, bombers, cargo aircraft, anything in the U.S. inventory."
It's a refueling aircraft that brings back a beaming smile, formed by powerful memories.
"....what comes back is having this fully loaded airplane, which can weigh 322,500 pounds fully-loaded with fuel. Putting my hands on those four throttles and pushing them up on the runway and seeing this huge runway expanse in front of me, holding the brakes, powering up those four humongous powerful engines you see… feeling the plane vibrate… and releasing the brakes and screaming down the runway off to do the mission... there's nothing like that."
She's a retired Colonel in the U.S. Air Force.
"....quite a bit of deployment before 9/11, much more after 9/11," she said.
She was in the US Navy from 1980 to 2007. She belonged to the 3rd graduating class of women at the United States Air Force Academy.
McConnell Air Force Base was her first station. Her mission was KC-135 refueling.
"So we blacked out the airplane. We pulled the throttles back and we went swooping down to 4,000 feet above the ground and the firefight is going on all around us and that C-130 gunship pulled up behind us and we plugged him and we are 20 feet apart and we are fast and furiously pumping fuel from our tanks into to his and then he pulled off again and immediately began firing again to protect our Americans," Cathy shared from a snippet of a Special Operations memory. "My heart beamed with pride at absolutely no hesitation."
She says McConnell AFB is a special place. She spent 10 years at McConnell over three assignments.
"We have about 20,000 people who live in this community who impact us with their military mission. McConnell Air Force Base is the largest largest air-refueling-wing in the United States Air Force."
"When you see these folks at the grocery store, or at church, or at kids events at school or walking in the park, say 'thank you'," she said.
"It means being willing to sacrifice your life, if needed. It means sharing that with your family and your kids and them growing up that mom is going to put her combat boots and leave again and why... and it means being proud when you are done of the folks who are still doing that mission.. following in our footsteps," she added on what it means to be a veteran.
"It's an honor to be part of this amazing community that serves our nation."
She says in life and in preparation for her future career many years ago, she didn't take the first 'no' and her advice would be that neither should you.
KAKE News and the Wichita Wind Surge work together to share stories of local veterans, both on-air and at Riverfront Stadium during Saturday home games.