Tennessee tanker fuels Misawa mission
By Senior Airman Deana Heitzman, 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 20, 2017
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- In order to provide rapid crisis response around the Indo-Asia-Pacific theater to sustain the “fight tonight” motto, the 35th Fighter Wing’s F-16 Fighting Falcons must practice their global reach as if it’s a real-world scenario.
With a load of mission essential weapons strapped on each wing, fuel is sometimes minimized--to an extent.
This is where the KC-135 Stratotanker comes in to showcase its art of in-flight refueling. Since Misawa is not home to any tankers, pilots rely on active duty and Air National Guard units to provide the support pilots need.
“We are here to support the 13th and 14th Fighter Squadrons,” said Master Sgt. Eric Jones, boom operator assigned to the 134th Air Refueling Wing, Tennessee Air National Guard. “Wherever these jets take-off from, they are loaded with weapons and cannot hold too much fuel. That is why we are here to refuel them during flight, which increases the amount of training or combat experience they [can] endure.”
Jones and his fellow Guardsmen practiced with both squadrons at Misawa over the last two weeks, accomplishing both the pilots’ and refuelers’ training requirements.
“After formal training and air-to-air refueling qualification, pilots typically perform these missions every six-months, staying proficient and capable,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Ley, the 35th Fighter Wing chief of safety. “When larger movements arise and need tanker support, like Red Flag or missions in Korea, it is important having everyone qualified to avoid personnel restrictions.”
If this requirement is neglected, Ley explained it could cause dangerous situations during training or in-combat scenarios. If pilots are not proficient in refueling, it could cause them to land in obscure or enemy territory.
From the tanker’s perspective, they receive training to improve their aerial refueling skills.
“When we have 16 jets waiting to be refueled during training flights, we, as boom operators, become very proficient at what we do,” Jones said. “When the time comes to do it for real-world operations, we know what we are doing and there are no hiccups in theater.”
The 35th FW joins a tanker unit every three months, providing quality air-to-air refueling training.
“Tanking is absolutely important to the mission at Misawa because it gets us where we need to go,” said Ley. “The F-16 is very limited on fuel and it allows us to increase our training and combat capabilities without landing our jet.”