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Military Pilot Marriage Refueled in Mission over Afghanistan

McLean and Todd
Christine and Jeff McLean

Marriage Refuel
A wingman of Jeff McLean snapped this photo through his night vision goggles which captured a very unique moment in matrimonial, military, and aviation history. Photo courtesy of the McLean family

July 8, 2010 — Just over a year ago Air Force Tanker Captain Christine (Todd) McLean and Lt. Jeff McLean, a fighter pilot for the Navy, married in the northern Milwaukee suburb of Fox Point, Wisconsin. They haven’t had much time together since as simultaneous deployments have kept them in the air and in different parts of the globe. Mercifully, in the next month or two, both of their tours will end and they will be back in the U.S. where it is easier to be a couple. But for one small moment last month Christine and Jeff had one high-flying reunion that likely made all that time apart worth it.

Christine and Jeff met and dated on and off all through high school in Wisconsin. Jeff went off to the Naval Academy and Christine to the Air Force Academy. Eventually they met again at the 2003 Army-Navy game and renewed their romance. Christine would be assigned to fly the KC-135 aerial refueling tanker and Jeff drew the Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet. After their 2009 marriage, they returned to their respective bases in England for Christine and Virginia for Jeff.

In May, Christine was deployed to southwest Asia to support Navy and Air Force operations. The chance for a refueling link-up became more of a possibility since Jeff was deployed in the region on the USS Eisenhower. While fighters have to refuel several times during a mission, trying to link up was difficult for the dedicated pair; between mission schedules and the 50 tankers in the region supporting missions over Iraq and Afghanistan. But Christine brought along a camera just in case Jeff happened to call-in to get some gas and say hello.

Other than a brief Caribbean honeymoon and a holiday meeting in Washington D.C., the two pilot-spouses hadn’t seen each other in six months; save for video chats, emails, and phone calls. On the night of Jeff’s 40th and final mission Christine and Jeff would finally link up.

“After I was done with my last mission in Afghanistan, the sun was just setting, and I changed frequencies to check in with my tanker and it was Christine!" Jeff McLean wrote in an email to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

"After she gave me about 10,000 pounds of fuel, I flew right up next to her cockpit. She turned on the lights and waved, and I could see her, but it's pretty dark in my jet, so I'm not sure that she ever saw me waving ... We were able to fly together all the way out of country and back over the Arabian Sea at 500 knots, then I had to head back and land on the ship and she headed back to her base. As we broke apart, I lit my afterburner, which hopefully looked pretty cool in the dark. It was an absolutely perfect flight."

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