Staff Sgt. Renate Purdy and The 128 ARW Participate in Exercise Arctic Thaw

  • Published
  • By Story by Senior Airman Madison Knabe
  • 128th Air Refueling Wing

Tampa, FL – The thermometer outside recorded 85 degrees Fahrenheit as Staff Sgt. Renate Purdy carefully turned a screwdriver, unlocking the dome covering the glass of the boom pod. Sweat dripped down her forehead as she cleaned the encapsulated glass of the KC-135 Stratotanker. Purdy is the only female Airman in the 128th Air Refueling Wing’s Maintenance Group that stayed the full two weeks of exercise Arctic Thaw. Without Purdy’s quick remedy to the last minute request, the 128th ARW would not have been able to refuel nine F-22 Raptor fighter jets during a night mission on April 26.

Flown from Milwaukee, the KC-135 played an integral role in training F-35 and F-22 pilots on in-air refueling procedures during exercise Artic Thaw. In total, the 128 ARW refueled 124 aircraft and passed over 1.011 million gallons of fuel to pilots from Eglin Air Base’s pilots. Arctic Thaw gives pilots-in-training critical experience as they learn to navigate the air space and offers young Airmen like Purdy a chance to practice their skills in a deployment environment.

Purdy joined the Wisconsin Air National Guard after graduating high school in 2016. She had no familial ties to the National Guard, so her first exposure came from a friend.

“One of my best friends from high school knew about the Guard from her family, and then one-by-one a whole group of girlfriends joined,” Purdy said. She joined with a goal to work with planes but was sold as a crew chief when she learned about the potential to travel.

“I surprise myself every day,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m really fixing an airplane right now!’ When I was younger, I never imagined myself doing this in a million years.”

Purdy originally thought she would only participate during drill weekends, but slowly she grew to love both the Guard and the 128th.

“I thought I was only going to be participating on drill weekends and hoped the next six years would go by quickly. But instead, I’ve made the Guard my full-time job and absolutely love it. Now I feel like time is going by too fast,” said Purdy, who is a full-time technician.

As time went by, she earned rank and respect among her fellow Airmen.

“Putting on ‘Staff’ made me realize that I am capable of continuing to get better and better, and further my career every day,” said Purdy, explaining that the travel, camaraderie, and opportunities that the Guard offers continue to inspire her.

Purdy continues to have high expectations for her future and for the future of the wing.

“The Guard is for anyone who is looking for great school benefits, who loves to travel, or someone who just can’t sit still in an office,” Purdy said. “If you put your heart into it, you will learn to love what you do. If you treat the 128th right, it will help you tenfold.”

Airmen like Purdy represent the new face of the 128th Air Refueling Wing – young, passionate, and diverse. This change can be found at every level, including in senior leadership. Last year, Colonel Adria Zuccaro assumed command as the 128th’s first female wing commander.

“I can only credit this shift to the women who came before me and worked so hard to get us to the point we are at today,” said Purdy. “I don’t feel any different in maintenance. Everyone expects the same work ethic from everyone, male or female, regardless of background.”

As the 128th ramps up for future work this summer, it is hard to miss the impact that women like Purdy have on the mission.

“I was one of six crew chiefs at a time, and one of the four that stayed the full two weeks of the exercise,” she said. “We were in charge of launching and recovering the tankers, along with gassing them and making sure they were in flying condition before and after flight. I know that by making the aircraft flyable and putting fuel on board, our operations group was able to fly missions and off-load fuel to the receivers successfully.”