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Stratotankers, Fueling the fight from above

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Gerald R. Willis
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs

Since the first aircraft was flown in 1903, the daring have charged toward maximizing the time an aircraft can remain flying. The greatest challenge being a limited amount of on-board fuel supply.

On June 27, 1923, two Army Air Service Airco DH-4B biplanes completed the first mid-air refueling, setting an endurance record of 37 consecutive hours flying. As if overnight, aerial refueling skyrocketed with new technologies and units committed to refueling pushing the limits of their engineering capabilities.

Today, the dedicated 506th Expeditionary Aerial Refueling Squadron (EARS) at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, leads the charge for aerial refueling in the Indo-Pacific region, the largest area of responsibility in the Department of Defense.

“Nothing could happen without tanker support in this region,” said Lt. Col. Steve Olson, 506th EARS Commander . “While deployed to Guam, our Airmen are flying sorties supporting refueling and airlift missions like Indo-Pacific Command’s Continuous Bomber Presence and Theater Security Packages.”

The 506th EARS is a permanently assigned unit comprised of multiple Air National Guard, Reserve and Active Duty KC-135 Stratotanker units. Each unit is on about a three month rotation, providing a pivotal link in consecutive in-flight refueling and airlift operations.

“I am proud to be representing the 126th Air Refueling Wing out of Scott Air Force Base, Illinois,” Olson, said. “We bring constant and reliable aerial-refueling, force extension, airlift capabilities and emergency medical evacuation to the table every day. We support any and every higher headquarters mission in this region.”

The tanker units bring years of experience in the U.S. Central Command area of operations to the mission here. The KC-135 units are no stranger to this mission set; the hardy aircraft was originally designed to refuel strategic bombers and now fits perfectly into the Continuous Bomber Presence mission in the Indo-Pacific Theater.

“Guard and Reserve units have a presence in multiple missions around the world. Today we are seeing a substantial increase in taskings and deployment rates of Guard and Reserve,” Olson said. “These increased requirements can be a unique challenge on drill status Guardsman and Reservists as they balance their military careers with their civilian employers.”

In the tight-knit Guard, Reserve and Active Duty refueling community, a lot is asked of all Airmen. After first arriving to Guam, Airmen are expected to take over the operations immediately. This includes flight operations, maintenance, logistics, medical support, communications, and all other support operations of the 506th EARS. This is a Total Force Operation that works closely with the host unit, the 36th Wing, Olson, said. Our goal is to take care of the Airman so they can focus solely on the mission at hand.

“Refueling the fight is one of the greatest privileges,” said Master Sgt. Nathan Moore, 506th EARS chief boom operator. “This is the best enlisted job in the Air Force, in my opinion. We play a vital role in every mission and offer our capabilities as force multipliers all over the world.”