About 40 members of the 107th Air Refueling Wing of the New York Air National Guard left Sunday night for about 45 days on assignment in southern France.
The unit will be stationed at a French Air Force base in Istres, from where its KC-135R Stratotankers will take part in "Operation Deliberate Forge," refueling U.S. and NATO jets patrolling Bosnia to control air activity by the Bosnian Serbs.
Capt. Linda Blaszak, public affairs officer for the 107th, said more members of the unit will leave for France Tuesday and Wednesday.
In all, about 100 will be involved, out of the unit's total membership of 807.
Not all the guardsmen will be in France for the entire length of the mission.
"We'll be swapping some people off at the two-week mark," Capt. Blaszak said.
Col. James Kwiatkowski, commander of the 107th, praised local employers for allowing their workers to go overseas on the mission.
"Our citizen soldiers rely on the cooperation and support of their families and employers. Without this type of underlying support, it would be impossible to conduct our mission. We deeply appreciate all the sacrifices our community makes in support of our deploying volunteers."
It is the fourth time the 107th has been used in the Bosnian mission.
Previous deployments to that theater occurred twice in 1995 and once in 1996.
Capt. Blaszak said the mid-air refueling capability is vital to the mission.
"Normally, jets can only fly for about two hours before they have to land," she said.
The KC-135R can pump a full tank of fuel into an airborne jet in three to five minutes, she said.
The planes used on this mission have recently been refitted with computerized avionics and navigation equipment, replacing the original cockpit gear dating from the planes' manufacture between 1958 and 1963.
The conversion program includes use of the satellite-based Global Positioning System.
"We no longer have need for navigators," Capt. Blaszak said.