BANGOR, Maine -- The Maine Air National Guard's 101st Air Refueling Wing is in high demand, which is why the unit has more than six dozen personnel currently deployed and has its busiest schedule ever, according to the head of the state's military forces.
"Our flying hours will be the highest ever in 2016," Brig. Gen. Douglas Farnham told members of the Disabled American Veterans of Maine at the organization's convention Friday about the 101st -- known as the MAINEiacs. Farnham told the group four aircraft from the 101st are deployed to U.S. Central Command, which covers Afghanistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Kazakhstan and a dozen other neighboring countries.
"There are 76 [personnel] from the 101st that are working over there now, as of today," Devin Robinson, Air Guard spokesman, said Monday. "That number changes day to day."
The 101st has 875 personnel, the spokesman said. The deployments started earlier this year in small groups, said Farnham, who is adjutant general for the Maine National Guard.
"It's basically for 120 days," he said. "Some are going over for 60, some are going for 120 and some are going for 30. They get back sometime in June."
The men and women of the 101st deploy in small groups and return in small groups, which is why send-off and welcome home ceremonies are not held, said Farnham, declining to be more specific about where the Maine airmen and women are deployed.
"That is the largest group deployment to that area," said the veteran airman, who in mid-January became leader of the Maine National Guard and commissioner of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management.
Farnham also gave the DAV members an update about the Maine Army Guard, saying 100 part-time and around 20 full-time posts are being eliminated as part of the country's reduction in Army Guard members. Reductions in the Air Guard are not expected, he said.
A large number of the 101st recently went to Norway for training, Farnham said, and a total of "162 airmen spent at least part of the last year deployed."
In the 1990s there were around 550 KC-135 refuelers in the U.S. fleet with most assigned to active duty U.S. Air Force units, but now there are approximately 300 and half are with Air National Guard units, including the 101st, he said.
"The air refuelers have never been more crucial," Farnham said.