TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Nearly three dozen Airmen of the 6th Air Refueling Squadron’s In-Flight Refueling Section at Travis Air Force Base, California, had quite a year in 2017. The section was responsible for offloading 50 million pounds of fuel to more than 4,000 receiver aircraft and supporting missions around the globe.
At the 39th Annual Boom Operator’s Symposium at Altus AFB, Oklahoma, the section received the 2017 Senior Master Sgt. Albert L. Evans Trophy. The award is given to the most outstanding air refueling section in the Air Force each year. The 6th ARS received the honor for the sixth time, more than any unit in the Air Force.
“The Senior Master Sgt. Albert Evans award is meaningful because it’s tied specifically to the boom operator 1A career field and it’s a memorial award for a guy that embodied everything the boom operators are about,” said Lt. Col. Justin Longmire, 6th ARS commander.
Senior Master Sgt. Albert Evans was well known and recognized in Strategic Air Command due to his skill and expertise as a boom operator. He held positions at the command and base levels as an instructor, evaluator and program manager. He was fatally injured during a KC-135 Stratotanker mishap at Castle AFB, California, in September 1979. The first award given out in his honor was presented in 1980 and the 6th ARS first received the award in 1989.
In 2017, 6th ARS boom operators supported testing of the KC-46A Pegasus, special operations forces, the first deployment of the F-35 Lightning II and much more.
“I’m very proud of the accomplishments of our booms,” said Longmire.
One area the colonel said he’s proud of is the unit’s combat record.
“The KC-10 Extender is 37 years old and we’ve been deployed continually since Desert Storm for 27 years,” he said. “About a quarter of my squadron has been deployed performing combat missions for nearly three decades.”
That constant presence provides a wide range of capabilities, he said.
“We can fly over Syria and stay there all day, refuel multiple aircraft and ensure those aircraft can provide close air support to our troops or coalition troops in contact and support any number of named or unnamed operations that are going on in that theater,” he said.
“We also have the ability to maintain a heightened sense of situational awareness and be active participants in the battle space,” he added. “We can listen to the radio and hear that maybe F-18s didn’t get all the fuel they needed before they left the boat. My guys can hear that, rework things in the aircraft and come up with a solution to get those F-18s the fuel they need and get back to where they need to be to refuel their next aircraft.”
The 6th ARS refueling team supported almost 500 combat missions in the past year enabling more than 1,000 strikes on enemy targets. To do all this, Longmire said his boom operators must be perfect.
“We hold our boom operators to an exceptionally high standard,” he said. “We tell them, ‘Everything behind the cockpit door is yours. The cargo is all yours and we can carry as much cargo as a C-17, so I need you to be an expert loadmaster and boom operator. I need you to be able to go to the back of the airplane at night, in combat, in terrible weather when everything is bouncing around and have a receiver pilot that may not be stable; you have to be able to attach a 60-foot long telephone pole that’s bouncing around into a receptacle about the size of a basketball with perfection. You can never miss and you can never screw that up.’”
One of those boom operators who strives for that perfection is Senior Airman Nathaniel Forider. He’s accumulated 1,400 flying hours supporting missions from the United States to Japan and the Middle East.
“As a boom operator, I’m responsible for the safe operation of the aircraft during air refueling,” he said. “I have to guide a receiver aircraft using lights and radio signals to a stable contact position between two and five feet from our KC-10 to refuel them.”
The job, while challenging, is very rewarding, he said.
“Seeing the impact we have, especially while we’re deployed, is the most rewarding thing for me,” he said. “We refuel multiple aircraft each day and we’re usually briefed about what happened on our last mission. Many times we’ll be briefed of the bombers and fighters impact that we supported. It’s rewarding knowing that us doing our job and doing it well is keeping America safe.”
The 6th ARS also has the ability to conduct aerial refueling without communicating with receiver aircraft at all, something the unit demonstrated during exercise Neptune Falcon from April 16 to May 5 at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota. During the exercise, six KC-10s from Travis joined six from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, to support 16 air refueling missions. Every sortie was completed on time thousands of feet above Earth with radio silence.
“Imagine you and I are going to go to the movies,” said Senior Master Sgt. Lucero Stockett, 6th ARS Boom Operator superintendent. “We get dropped off in the middle of nowhere and all we know is when and where the movie starts. Somehow, without the use of cell phones, texting or radios, we have to get to our seats at exactly the same time. For 12 aircraft to do what I just said flawlessly, that’s the victory. That’s the type of mission our Airmen do while they’re deployed; and they must ensure it’s executed on time and correctly.”
Stockett said the 6th ARS received the Senior Master Sgt. Albert Evans Trophy because her Airmen are so dedicated to the mission.
“We ask them to do a lot every day,” she said. “They must be proficient in their job and be well rounded Airmen. This award is because of their hard work and commitment.”
“They’re the ones going on back-to-back deployments and they come to work every day with a smile and they love what they do,” she said. “They do their jobs to the best of their abilities and they do it very well.”
By winning the Senior Master Sgt. Albert Evans Trophy for the sixth time, Master Sgt. James Cain, 6th ARS operations superintendent, said he hopes his Airmen are inspired to even greater heights.
“I hope it instills a sense of pride in what our Airmen do,” he said. “It shows them they’re a cut above. Our job is challenging. We’re gone nearly 250 days a year, we fly all over the world, help a number of coalition forces and our global reach is unmatched. I hope our boom operators embrace the fact that they’re part of that. They help us in our peace time and wartime missions demonstrate American resolve.”