Move with a purpose: 128 ARW mission displays versatility of the KC-135

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Meghan Skrepenski and Tech. Sgt. Jenna Lenski
  • 128th Air Refueling Wing
The whirlwind of planning and traveling across the world and back in just six days isn't a task that everyone is willing to undertake. But long days and crossing continents, oceans and international datelines are all in the job description for the Airmen whose mission it is to fly, maintain and provide aerial refueling with the KC-135 Stratotanker. 

On a brisk spring morning in Milwaukee, aircrew members and aircraft maintainers with the 128th Air Refueling Wing prepared their jet for a mission ready airlift to bring Air National Guard members with the 175th Civil Engineer Squadron training at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, back to their home base near Baltimore.  The KC-135 crew consisting of two pilots, two boom operators and three crew chiefs set off for the mission April 20, 2016; their first of five different flights.

First stop: Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam, Hawaii.

The 8-hour flight from Milwaukee to JBPHH was open to retired military members, military dependents, and current military members to fly through a program called Space-Available Travel.  The boom operators briefed the Space-A passengers on safety and flight information before loading their baggage into the cargo bins on the aircraft.  In this capacity, boom operators perform duties similar to those of flight attendants, while briefing their passengers, and duties similar to those of loadmasters, while they process cargo.

"The benefits this job offers are great because you have opportunities to train while completing a mission," said said Staff Sgt. William T. Pelkofer, a 128 ARW boom operator.  "I feel this is one of the best jobs because you get a chance to see some great views while refueling.  There really are a lot of opportunities to travel and see the world while serving your country."

After the Space-A passengers disembarked in warm, sunny Hawaii, the crew members cleaned up, maintained and readied their jet for the next leg of the mission before finally getting a hot meal and some rest.  Another 8-hour flight over the Pacific Ocean awaited them in the morning.

Our crew members flying this mission to Guam are trained and ready to perform any part of the three-fold mission of the KC-135, said 2nd Lt. Jay R. Lamb, a 128 ARW pilot.  Our missions can involve anything from deployment to bases in the Middle East with a focus on aerial refueling and aeromedical evacuations to a quick turn-around MRA to tropical islands for troop or equipment movement.

"This is my first time completing a Pacific Command trip as a pilot," said Lamb. "But as an aircraft maintainer for 10 years I flew on more than 20 western Pacific trips, so I was prepared for the challenges that may arise with this type of mission." 

Upon arriving in Guam, the weather was humid and the members of the 175th Civil Engineer Squadron, Maryland Air National Guard, were ready to go home. They had just spent two weeks of annual training working on a structural project at Andersen AFB. 

Transporting military members proved much different than transporting civilian passengers.  They helped load their own cargo before settling into their seats for the flight back to Hawaii.  After they reached altitude, the CES Airmen sprawled out on the cold aircraft floor and across the seats and got some well-deserved rest.  Meanwhile the crew members flew the third flight of their mission and Lamb and the aircraft commander got some quality training time.

PACOM missions provide a unique training opportunity as we utilize the Controller Pilot Data Link Communications to talk with air traffic controllers in a way similar to text messaging which simplifies the amount of air chatter and speeds up the time needed for clearance to make small adjustments in altitude and airspeed while flying, said Lamb. This is not something that is utilized during our typical missions while flying over the Continental U.S.

"As an instructor pilot I am now able to give back to the unit by helping others develop and grow," said Maj. Chad Hembrook, instructor pilot and aircraft commander for the 128 ARW airlift. "It's so rewarding to do operational training such as this because it's great to work with Airmen who are motivated to do their job well and do whatever is needed to complete the mission."

After an overnight stay in Hawaii, the CES Airmen loaded back onto the KC-135 for their final flight to Joint Base Andrews.  The crew members still had one final flight and one final mission - aerial refueling training with an E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft.  The JSTARS crew practiced making the connection several times before they flew off to continue their own mission.

Mission ready airlifts like this one provide opportunities for training for everyone on the crew. They also provide the chance to work through processes and determine what may need to be refined or improved, said Master Sgt. Kelly S. Lawrence, a 128 ARW Crew Chief.

After six long days on this short trip, the crew members arrived back in Milwaukee having accomplished an airlift mission, on-the-job training and aerial refueling training.

"Each Airman has their job to do and when they are trained properly and take pride in their work, it results in everything working just as it should," said Lawrence.