FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -

The attacks of September 11, 2001 forever changed the missions flown by Fairchild Air Force Base; the threat of hijacked airliners prompted the Pentagon to make Fairchild's 92nd Air Refueling Wing a first responder when it comes to our national defense.

Two days after September 11, 2001, a Fairchild KC-135 was refueling F-15 Eagles guarding a major west coast city from potential terror attacks that never materialized. While no major attacks like 9/11 have hit American soil since 2001, Fairchild air crews continue to fly the skies above the Pacific Northwest helping to protect the continental United States from attack as part of Operation Noble Eagle.

"What we're here for is to respond to any terrorist threat that might show up on the scopes of the government," Air Force Captain Landon Walker said.

"Operation Noble Eagle is so that a KC-135 can get off the ground in the minimum amount of time possible to refuel any kind of fighters, to respond to any kind of terrorist activity or any threat against the United States or Canada at any time," Air Force Tech Sergeant Ted Buit said.

In order to respond at anytime, Fairchild air crews are pulling alert duties around the clock.

"When the klaxon initially sounds, whatever you are doing you drop it and bolt out the door immediately and get into the aircraft as soon as possible," Buit said.

Fairchild air crews are most commonly alerted because of concerns about terrorism aboard passenger jets.

"They launch fighter aircraft to escort commercial airliners into major airports and that's exactly the reason we would be launched," Landon said, explaining that fighter aircraft are going to need fuel at some point to stay on mission.

Fairchild air crews are geared up to refuel both naval and Air Force fighters at 450 miles an hour in the skies over the Pacific Northwest at a moments notice, not to mention ground crews are ready to work graveyard shifts to keep these alert tankers ready to respond.

"We couldn't even get out the door without our maintainers. It takes a whole base. Fairchild comes together as a team and works really hard to make Noble Eagle happen," Landon said.

To test their ability to respond to an alert, the base is running an exercise this week intended to test the 92nd Air Refueling Wing's preparedness.