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News > Boom operator brings career full circle
Boom operator brings career full circle

Posted 10/21/2011   Updated 10/21/2011 Email story   Print story


by Airman Basic Anthony Jennings
36th Wing Public Affairs

10/21/2011 - ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam  -- After nearly a quarter of a century of traveling the globe while working in an office that's 30,000 feet above the surface of the earth, an Airman here recently brought his career full circle before retiring Oct. 28.

Master Sgt. Richard Anderson, 36th Mobility Response Squadron, has worked as a boom operator in the KC-10 Extender for most of his 24-year career, refueling airplanes and conducting cargo missions. However, while assigned at his first duty station at K.I. Sawyer AFB, Mich., Sergeant Anderson spent the first three years of his career refueling aircraft in the KC-135 Stratotanker. Thanks to the Hawaii Air National Guard, he was given the opportunity to fly and perform his duties on an aircraft that, for him, evoked a feeling of nostalgia.

"I started off my first three years of active duty service working in the KC-135," Sergeant Anderson said. "Getting the chance to not only fly, but perform my duties on an aircraft I haven't operated in for 20 years was an amazing experience and I can't think of a better way to finish my career."

The Knox, Ind., native was born on June 10, 1967, and moved to Phoenix, Ariz., when he turned 18 to work on roofs with his uncles. After two years of working in the Arizona sun, Sergeant Anderson decided it was time for him to find a career that was a little more, "professional."

"I worked from 5 a.m. to 1 in the afternoon and was beginning to worry that I'd soon develop skin cancer if I stayed on those roofs," Sergeant Anderson said with a quiet laugh. "I wanted to find a job where I wouldn't have to work like that. I wanted to find something more professional. And the Air Force is just that. If you weren't a professional before you enlisted, you were molded into one once you got in. Now I work with professionals every day."

Sergeant Anderson enlisted for a myriad of reasons, but amongst the top was the opportunity to travel. Flying to places such as Canada, Guatemala, Venezuela, Italy, Diego Garcia, Somalia, Thailand and Australia, just to name a few, has made his time in the Air Force worthwhile.

"As an aircrew member, I've had the opportunity to travel the globe," said Sergeant Anderson. "I've seen most of the world several times and I think I can count on one hand the amount of states I haven't been to."

It's almost impossible to make it to retirement in the military without having good leadership to provide mentorship along the way. For Sergeant Anderson unfortunately, one of the most influential leaders he's had perished in a plane crash at Dyess AFB, Texas, Feb. 1, 1989. The incident killed all 17 members aboard.

"When something bad happens in flying, especially in your career field and your plan, you find out almost immediately," he said. "You want to know what happened, what went wrong and what lessons are to be learned. Dave Vickers, my instructor, helped me to mature the fastest out of all my supervisors that I can remember. He set a good example for me to follow from the very beginning. He taught me what I needed to do and how I needed to do it. He was just one of those guys who did it the right way, and made you want to do it the right way too."

Although losing his instructor was tragic, it also reminded Sergeant Anderson of the importance of doing his job the right way, because a single error could cause disaster and cost the lives of his crew.

"Flying in general makes you mature fast," Sergeant Anderson said. "When you enlist right out of high school, you're still pretty immature. The boom operator career field places a lot of personal responsibility on the individual. My primary job and an Airman's primary job are pretty much the same, to refuel an airplane in-air. It's exactly the same whether you're a single striper or a chief master sergeant. So you go from high school, to 'I'm responsible for operating correctly in my realm of responsibility from point A to point B, if I don't do this correctly people could die;' that's a lot of responsibility for some people."

As a boom operator for the KC-10, he has a dual mission. The KC-10's primary mission is aerial refueling but it can also combine the tasks of a tanker and cargo aircraft by refueling fighters and simultaneously carrying the fighter support personnel and equipment on overseas deployments.

Since arriving at Andersen in Nov. 2009, Sergeant Anderson has been working in the Mobility Response Squadron. While he may not be doing his primary Air Force Specialty Code, he says working there has broadened his perspective of the various Air Force career fields.

"As a boom operator, I've had the opportunity to work with a lot of people but I never really got to know about their jobs and the full extent of what they did," Sergeant Anderson said. "In the MRS we have 27 different AFSC's, including aerial porters. I once thought I had the greatest job in the Air Force and I still firmly believe that, but I've found out now that everyone I work with thinks the same about their job. It's an eye-opening experience to work with people and know they have a love and passion for their career field as I do with my own."

With retirement looming over the horizon, Sergeant Anderson looks forward to returning home to his wife, Monique, in New Hampshire.

Although globetrotting has been a memorable experience for the boom operator, he admits, it can have an adverse impact on the personal life.

"Traveling the world is definitely a hardship on the personal life," Sergeant Anderson said. "You have to be up front with your partner from the very beginning. If you don't, they might not be able to adapt."

"The thing about retirement that I look forward to most, is the fact I can do whatever I want," the soon-to-be retired vet said. "Now I have the choices to shape my future, I just hope I make the best of those choices."

Reflecting on his career, Sergeant Anderson says if he could go back in time, he'd do it all over again.

"Joining the Air Force was the best thing that could've happened for me, that's why I stayed in for 24 years," he said. "I've had a very fulfilling career and I wouldn't change a thing. I'm happy with where it started, where it's ending, and everything in between."

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