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NEWS | Sept. 11, 2020

Guard aircrews train to keep skills sharp

By Tech. Sgt. R Denise Mommens 155th Air Refueling Wing

LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska Air National Guard aircrew members used their KC-135R Stratotanker to conduct air refueling exercises with four F-16s out of Buckley Air National Guard Base Aug. 12 in the skies over Colorado.

The readiness training enabled both groups of Air National Guard Airmen to perfect the precision needed to refuel in the air safely. Most U.S. military aircraft cannot get from the United States to any global mission without KC-135 Stratotanker support.

“By practicing the refueling mission, we’re ensuring that capability for the combatant commanders and then the national leadership structure,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Shannon, 173rd Air Refueling Squadron director of operations.

Shannon said maintaining military readiness requires U.S. Air Force pilots to complete certain tasks in a specific time. That can sometimes be challenging for members of the Air National Guard or U.S. Air Force Reserve who must balance their military duties with their civilian careers, education or other pursuits.

That’s why the Nebraska Air National Guard puts such a premium on making sure that training flights such as the one with the Colorado Air National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters, which were conducting dog-fighting training, gives the Nebraska aircrew multiple opportunities to receive valuable training.

“When our part-timers come in, we’ll set up a flight and identify the tasks we need to accomplish,” said Shannon. “We’ll create a schedule to get those things done. Then we go up in the airplane and execute that schedule.”

Shannon said the operations schedulers are constantly reaching out to other units to coordinate training that meets the needs of both organizations. And distance usually isn’t an obstacle in pulling those efforts off, he added.

“We’ve gone all the way both East and West Coast to pick up various receivers to conduct training,” said Shannon. “And along the way, we’ll stop in another airfield for practice training for our aircrews, as far as approach and pattern work, of strange airfield operations.”

The training doesn’t end in the cockpits, either. The training in the KC-135 Stratotankers’ rear-facing boom pod where the aircraft’s aerial boom refueler operates is equally important in maintaining individual and unit readiness.

Senior Master Sgt. Mat Ellison, 173rd Air Refueling Squadron senior evaluator boom operator, said being a boom operator is not a hard job, but it carries a ton of responsibility. That means that unit “boomers” – many of whom are young Airmen recently graduated from their Air Force technical school – must continuously refine their skills in a variety of challenging flying conditions.

“I love watching new guys when it clicks,” Ellison said. “Everybody’s got to know what they’re doing or it’s not going to work.”

“The guys that make it are the guys that can adapt, roll with the punches, learn from being told what their mistakes are and move on and become better. That’s what it takes to really be successful in this job,” he said.



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