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6th ARS provides critical support in Pacific, fosters relations between US and Japan

An F-15 is refueled by a U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., during a mission in the Indo-Pacific theater June 4, 2018. The KC-10 refueled six fighters from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force offloading more than 130,000 pounds of fuel enabling them to fly more than 2,900 nautical miles from Japan to Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

An F-15 is refueled by a U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., during a mission in the Indo-Pacific theater June 4, 2018. The KC-10 refueled six fighters from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force offloading more than 130,000 pounds of fuel enabling them to fly more than 2,900 nautical miles from Japan to Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachariah Ploeger, 6th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, refuels an F-15 during a mission in the Pacific theater June 4, 2018. The boom operator is responsible for ensuring safe refueling with receiver aircraft thousands of feet above the ground. Ploeger refueled eight fighter aircraft from the United States and Japan during the five-day mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachariah Ploeger, 6th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, refuels an F-15 during a mission in the Pacific theater June 4, 2018. The boom operator is responsible for ensuring safe refueling with receiver aircraft thousands of feet above the ground. Ploeger refueled eight fighter aircraft from the United States and Japan during the five-day mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

U.S. Air Force Capt. Spencer Turek (Center), 6th Air Refueling Squadron KC-10 Extender pilot, enjoys a conversation with two Japan Air Self-Defense Force pilots inside a KC-10 during a refueling mission in the Indo-Pacific theater June 4, 2018. During the mission, the KC-10 refueled six JASDF F-15 aircraft offloading nearly 130,000 pounds of fuel enabling the fighters to travel more than 2,900 nautical miles from Japan to Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

U.S. Air Force Capt. Spencer Turek (Center), 6th Air Refueling Squadron KC-10 Extender pilot, enjoys a conversation with two Japan Air Self-Defense Force pilots inside a KC-10 during a refueling mission in the Indo-Pacific theater June 4, 2018. During the mission, the KC-10 refueled six JASDF F-15 aircraft offloading nearly 130,000 pounds of fuel enabling the fighters to travel more than 2,900 nautical miles from Japan to Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

U.S. Air Force Capt. Eddie Miller, 6th Air Refueling Squadron assistant flight commander for the mission support flight and a KC-10 aircraft commander, conducts a flight controls check in the cockpit of a KC-10 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 6, 2018. The aircraft completed a five-day mission which featured refueling U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagles and Japan Air Self-Defense Force fighter aircraft in the Indo-Pacific Command area of operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

U.S. Air Force Capt. Eddie Miller, 6th Air Refueling Squadron assistant flight commander for the mission support flight and a KC-10 aircraft commander, conducts a flight controls check in the cockpit of a KC-10 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 6, 2018. The aircraft completed a five-day mission which featured refueling U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagles and Japan Air Self-Defense Force fighter aircraft in the Indo-Pacific Command area of operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

An F-15 is refueled by a U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., during a mission in the Indo-Pacific theater June 4, 2018. The KC-10 refueled six fighters from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force offloading more than 130,000 pounds of fuel enabling them to fly more than 2,900 nautical miles from Japan to Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

An F-15 is refueled by a U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., during a mission in the Indo-Pacific theater June 4, 2018. The KC-10 refueled six fighters from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force offloading more than 130,000 pounds of fuel enabling them to fly more than 2,900 nautical miles from Japan to Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

U.S. Air Force Capt. Jeremy Fabling, 6th Air Refueling Squadron KC-10 Extender pilot, conducts a flight controls check in the cockpit of a KC-10 at Misawa Air Base, Japan, June 4, 2018. The aircraft completed a five-day mission which featured refueling U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagles and Japan Air Self-Defense Force fighter aircraft in the Indo-Pacific Command area of operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

U.S. Air Force Capt. Jeremy Fabling, 6th Air Refueling Squadron KC-10 Extender pilot, conducts a flight controls check in the cockpit of a KC-10 at Misawa Air Base, Japan, June 4, 2018. The aircraft completed a five-day mission which featured refueling U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagles and Japan Air Self-Defense Force fighter aircraft in the Indo-Pacific Command area of operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ben Clouse, 6th Air Refueling Squadron KC-10 Extender flight engineer, conducts a check of flight systems inside a KC-10 at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., June 1, 2018. The aircraft completed a five-day mission which featured refueling U.S. Air Force and Japan Air Self-Defense Force fighter aircraft in the Indo-Pacific Command area of operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ben Clouse, 6th Air Refueling Squadron KC-10 Extender flight engineer, conducts a check of flight systems inside a KC-10 at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., June 1, 2018. The aircraft completed a five-day mission which featured refueling U.S. Air Force and Japan Air Self-Defense Force fighter aircraft in the Indo-Pacific Command area of operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

A U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle assigned to the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, Japan, is refueled by a KC-10 Extender from the 6th Air Refueling Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., June 2, 2018. The KC-10 refueled two F-15C Eagles a total of 16 times, offloading a total of 78,400 pounds of fuel over a distance covering nearly 2,300 nautical miles on a mission in the Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

A U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle assigned to the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, Japan, is refueled by a KC-10 Extender from the 6th Air Refueling Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., June 2, 2018. The KC-10 refueled two F-15C Eagles a total of 16 times, offloading a total of 78,400 pounds of fuel over a distance covering nearly 2,300 nautical miles on a mission in the Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

Staff Sgt. Zachariah Ploeger, 6th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, refuels an F-15 during a mission in the Indo-Pacific theater June 4, 2018. The boom operator is responsible for ensuring safe refueling with receiver aircraft thousands of feet above Earth. Ploeger refueled eight fighter aircraft from the United States and Japan during the five-day mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

Staff Sgt. Zachariah Ploeger, 6th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, refuels an F-15 during a mission in the Indo-Pacific theater June 4, 2018. The boom operator is responsible for ensuring safe refueling with receiver aircraft thousands of feet above Earth. Ploeger refueled eight fighter aircraft from the United States and Japan during the five-day mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

F-15s fly alongside a U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., during a refueling mission in the Indo-Pacific theater June 4, 2018. The KC-10 refueled six fighters from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force offloading more than 130,000 pounds of fuel enabling them to fly more than 2,900 nautical miles from Japan to Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)
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F-15s fly alongside a U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., during a refueling mission in the Indo-Pacific theater June 4, 2018. The KC-10 refueled six fighters from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force offloading more than 130,000 pounds of fuel enabling them to fly more than 2,900 nautical miles from Japan to Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

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A KC-10 Extender aircraft is parked on the flight line before taking off at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., June 1, 2018. The aircraft flew 1,855 miles from Travis to Eielson AFB, Alaska Friday to support refueling missions in the Pacific. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

U.S. Air Force Capt. Spencer Turek, 6th Air Refueling Squadron KC-10 Extender pilot, fly’s a KC-10 over Alaska June 6, 2018. The KC-10 supported a five-day refueling mission in the Indo-Pacific theater refueling a total of eight aircraft offloading more than 200,000 pounds of fuel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)
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U.S. Air Force Capt. Spencer Turek, 6th Air Refueling Squadron KC-10 Extender pilot, fly’s a KC-10 over Alaska June 6, 2018. The KC-10 supported a five-day refueling mission in the Indo-Pacific theater refueling a total of eight aircraft offloading more than 200,000 pounds of fuel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – At 5:30 a.m. June 1, while most people are probably sleeping at Travis Air Force Base, California, seven aircrew members from the 6th Air Refueling Squadron meet to discuss their mission.

In a few hours the team, along with two flying crew chiefs from the 660th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, will prep their jet and begin their journey, one that will take them more than 9,000 nautical miles from the United States to Japan and back.

The mission involves refueling two U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagles as they travel from Eielson AFB, Alaska to Kadena Air Base, Japan, and six Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-15s as they fly from Japan to Alaska to participate in exercise Red Flag-Alaska, an advanced aerial combat training exercise.

International refueling operations are significant, said Capt. Eddie Miller, 6th Air Refueling Squadron assistant flight commander and the KC-10 aircraft commander for the mission.

“If you look at how we operate in nearly any conflict over the past two or three decades, most everything we do is with other nations,” Miller said. “Having international allies all across the world, especially in the Pacific realm, is critical to our success.”

“Helping our friends in the Japan Air Self-Defense Force move their aircraft to Alaska so they can participate in an international exercise is vital to our national defense and helps us further our relationship with Japan,” he said.

Miller and his team arrived at Eielson AFB, Alaska, during the afternoon of June 1 after flying 1,855 nautical miles from Travis to prep for the refueling mission. Several hours later on June 2, they were back in the clouds providing refueling support for two U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagles as they flew across the Pacific Ocean.

Staff Sgt. Zacharia Ploeger, 6th ARS boom operator, refueled the fighters offloading approximately 78,000 pounds of fuel to the aircraft.

“Being a boom operator is a pretty rewarding job,” he said. “I get to see the impact we have every day. We take fighters across the Pacific and into several areas all over the world.”

Ploeger has supported more than 80 sorties as a boom operator since November 2014. He’s responsible for the loading and unloading of cargo, passenger handling, as well as safety and emergency equipment.

“Basically, I’m responsible for everything behind the cockpit door to the back of the aircraft,” he said.

He’s also responsible for guiding U.S. and international aircraft into position so they can be safely refueled thousands of feet in the sky.

On June 4, Ploeger refueled six Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-15s during a flight from Misawa Air Base, Japan, to Alaska. He offloaded nearly 130,000 pounds of fuel as he refueled the fighters enabling them to fly more than 2,900 nautical miles and arrive safely in Alaska.

Maj. Kento Yamasaki, an F-15 pilot for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s 304th Fighter Squadron, kept a watchful eye on the mission from inside the KC-10.

“I’m responsible for monitoring the refueling of our six fighters and keeping our headquarters informed,” he said. “We conduct a joint refueling effort with the United States at least once a year. We participate in Red Flag annually, and we’re usually refueled by U.S. Air Force tankers on the way to Alaska and on the way home.”

Kento said Japan appreciates the opportunity to fly missions alongside their American counterparts.

“Missions like this give us a chance to improve our skills, but more importantly, this mission allows our countries to enhance our relationship,” Kento said. “Because of this mission, we will be able to join the exercise in Alaska which is a big event for us. We aren’t able to participate in such a large exercise in Japan, so for us, being able to partake in Red Flag-Alaska is very important.”

The mission also enhances understanding between the two air forces, Kento added.

“The big benefit we gain is to better understand each other,” he said. “I’m on the KC-10 now. By being here and engaging with your crew, I can understand what you do and why you do it. Similarly, your leaders can learn about our tactics and procedures.”

“The bond between the United States and Japan is strong, and with efforts like today’s we are making that bond even stronger and working together to counter potential bad actors,” Kento said.

Miller echoed Kento’s sentiments.

“Our pilots and crew members learned a little more about what it takes to operate in a foreign country and work with our Japanese counterparts,” he said. “One challenge we had to overcome was the language barrier. We all experience the difficulty a language barrier can present and this mission allowed us to work together and try to figure out how to work through that.”

The Travis KC-10 with its nine crew members returned home on June 6 after offloading more than 200,000 pounds of fuel supporting fighter aircraft.

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