MANAS TRANSIT CENTER—Service members deployed from Fairchild Air Force Base are playing a substantial role in Kyrgyzstan by refueling fighter planes and other aircraft mid-air during combat.
Chief Master Sgt. Greg Warren participated in one of these missions last week, flying over the Hindu Kush. The steep and often hostile mountains lie between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Chief Warren does not go in the air very often anymore. He said it was a tremendous honor to be a part of this joint mission between the Army, Marines and Navy.
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Both of the captains for this mission were from the 92nd Air Refueling Wing at Fairchild. Captain Alex Denton was one of them.
“The air refueling role is the unsung hero, the underdog story if you will, of the air force,” Denton said. “Because everybody needs us to project global power, but we're not the pointy end of the spear.”
Still, the spear would not exist without the mid-air refueling team. Among the crewmembers, the boom operator might have the most critical role.
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Fairchild Senior Airman David Fernandez is one of the boom operators. He lies face down in the fuel pod with the seemingly impossible task of guiding the refueling boom over an F-16 Fighter Jet. He does this while traveling nearly 500mph at thousands of feet in the air.
“Plenty of times, I've almost hit the canopy or hit the jet, or had the receiver hit us. So, it's just all about sound judgment,” Fernandez said.
His job requires training, talent, and in this case, patience. Rough turbulence made this particular job even more difficult.
Fernandez said he was pretty much bouncing everywhere.
“The boom was moving and our receivers kept trying to come in for a contact,” he said. “And I just had to keep pulling them out. But you've just got to take a moment and focus, and finally, get the boom in the receptacle.”
Fernandez’ persistence paid off.
“Sometimes the refueling gets a little sketchy, but our young boom did a tremendous job here today,” said Chief Warren.
Over the course of eight hours, the Fairchild crews refueled eight US fighter jets and two Dutch fighters.
Sometimes the purpose of these missions is forgotten.
“Plenty of times, you just spend hours circling around and you kind of think, ‘this is boring.’ But, then you land and realize you were helping people on the ground” said Fernandez.
Many of this mission’s details are classified, but the fighters 25,000 feet below could not compete in battle without the refueling team. Knowing this made the hard work payoff.
“You go out there every day and you see what you're doing,” Denton said. “Today, we keyed up the radio, and you hear what they're seeing. It's not the same thing as doing it. But they couldn't do it without us.”