TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.- The day started like any other for Capt. Shane Ruether, 9th Air Refueling Squadron pilot, and his KC-10 Extender crew of two pilots, one boom operator and one flight engineer.
The crew was fulfilling the role as an alternate, tasked to sit alert for a presidential support mission, and was prepared to be airborne if it was needed to provide back-up support to a primary KC-10.
The mission the crew was backing up was a presidential-directed 1A1 mission, operating in direct support of President Barack Obama.
“Our mission sounded very routine,” said Ruether, the aircraft commander. “It was planned to be low threat.”
The atmosphere in the squadron quickly changed, however, when the crew – about to head home to rest – was told to pack its bags. Its members would leave soon on a last-minute mission to Alaska.
“We flew up to Alaska, staging out of Eielson Air Force Base,” said Ruether. “We had two KC-10s on the ramp, and we were technically the air spare, meaning that we would take off with the other KC-10, but were only there as a backup in the event that their jet could not transfer fuel to the E-4B.”
The E-4B that Ruether and its crew were tasked to refuel if the primary KC-10 did not take off. This aircraft is part of the National Military Command System for the president, the secretary of defense, and the joint chiefs of staff.
In case of national emergency or destruction of ground command and control centers, the aircraft serves as a command, control and communications center capable of directing U.S. forces, executing emergency war orders and coordinating actions by civil authorities.
After the crew was alerted to fly and was at its KC-10, the crew noticed that the primary KC-10 required maintenance.
“Our crew immediately knew that we were the only jet left to get the job done,” said Ruether.
Quickly, the crew contacted the tanker airlift control center to update it on the situation, assuring the center that the crew was prepared to step up and execute the mission.
“We were able to start engines, get airborne and meet the E-4B on the scheduled track, right on time,” said Ruether. “We offloaded nearly 170,900 pounds.”
When the crew landed back at Eielson, they received unexpected news.
“As soon as we were on the ground, we learned that the primary KC-10 had been fixed by the hard working crew chiefs from our crew and that we had received another last-minute 1A1 tasking for the following day,” said Ruether
The following day, Ruether’s crew and the primary KC-10 crew departed together, meeting a high priority E-3 Sentry. When the crew made contact, the flight engineer Staff Sgt. John Loera ran multiple calculations ensuring that the crew could offload enough fuel to the E-3.
Completing these calculations quickly and accurately was crucial due to time constraints that the E-3 faced. Even with poor visibility and turbulence, boom operator Airman 1st Class Christiann Naylor was able to offload 109,000 pounds of fuel, ensuring the E-3 would have a successful mission.
In three days, the crew successfully supported back-to-back 1A1 missions, offloaded 279,900 pounds of mission critical fuel flew for nearly 19 hours.
“This was my first 1A1 mission, and I didn’t really know what to expect,” said 1st Lt. Andrew Kerr, co-pilot for the mission. “The whole crew did great flexing with all of the changes that happened over a five-day period”
Even in challenging situations, Airmen from the 9th ARS support each other.
“Everyone on the crew kept their morale up, and made sure everyone was enjoying their time during the mission,” Kerr added. “It really showed me the camaraderie we have in the 9th ARS. It was a rewarding experience because it proved how flexible we can be on important missions.”
Though being initially tasked as an air spare and manned by a young crew, the Airmen from the 9th ARS rose to the challenge, ensuring mission success over multiple days in a challenging, dynamic environment. The 9th ARS crew supplied 100 percent of the fuel to both 1A1 aircraft with a 100 percent reliability and on-time takeoff rate.