Air Force Reserve Tankers

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When most people read about Military units, the lime light is usually thrown upon the warrior types. In the United States Air Force, the stories normally fall on the fighter pilots and bomber crews, or the adventure types such as test pilots and astronauts.

I have recently started to turn my attention to what is called the Support units, the people behind the warriors, whom if they did not do their job, the fighters and bombers could not do theirs. The unofficial motto of these Tanker crews is classic. “Nobody kicks ass, without Tanker gas”. So true, as their job is to refuel other US Military and allied planes during long range missions around the world, all while staying airborne.

I called upon the Public Affairs Superintendent at March Air Reserve Base, Mrs. Linda Welz, who also holds the same position when she is the uniform of a U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant, when she is performing her duties as an Air Force reservists. Again a position that does not get a lot of up front respect, but if it wasn’t for our Citizen-Soldiers, the United States military would be hard pressed to maintain it’s military readiness around the world. It is a rough estimate that 75% of all US Air Force Reserve Pilots are also the same pilots flying your commercial airlines. Many of the Reservist are police officers, firefighters, medical doctors, and any other occupation you may think of, but they put on their uniforms every month, and when called upon to serve our country.

March Air Reserve Base in Southern California’s, Riverside County was first established in February of 1918, making it one of the oldest airfields operated by the United States military. First being established as the Alessandro Flying Training Field. It’s name was change, and it has been known for most of it’s history, the base as March Air Force, until major budget cuts, and the base was transformed into a Reserve base in March of 1993.

It is the home to the Air Force Reserve Command’s 4th Air Force Headquarters and the host 452d Air Mobility Wing (452 AMW), the largest air mobility wing of the 4th Air Force.

Meeting with Colonel  Russell A. Muncy, the Commanding Officer of the 452nd Air Mobility Wing, the wing is the Air Force Reserve’s largest and only unit-equipped air mobility wing, with nine C-17As, 14 KC-135Rs and some 4,000 reservists. he gave a quick briefing of the unit’s mission and history. Many famous members of the US Air Force have served at this base, such Jimmy Dolittle, Hap Arnold, and Curtis LeMay. The very first USO/Bob Hope show took place here in May of 1941.

Soon, I would be flying with pilot, Captain Josh Welch of Titusville, Florida, Co-pilot, 1st Lt. Jon Flanagan, of Everett, Washington, and Boom operator, Staff Sergeant Matt Nelson, from Chisago City, Minnesota in the Boeing KC-135R, named “Wild Thang”.

I was allowed to sit in the jump seat on the flight deck. As we took off, I could see the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III  that would be accompanying us on this training mission. Our mission would first take us south where the observatory on Mt. Palomar could be seen. it was a clear and sunny day, with little wind. We turned west and headed for the coast. After passing over San Clemente, CA, you could suddenly see San Clemente Island to the south. San Clemente Island is the southern most island in California’s Channel Islands, and is owned by the United States Navy. We soon passed over Catalina Island and was joined by the C-17, trailing behind us. We stayed at approx 28,000 ft, and started to lower the boom (the device which passes fuel to the other plane by connecting a pipe into the other planes gas tank).

As we came back over the coastline, we continued north following the coastline up California’s famous Hwy 1, and on our way towards San Francisco, CA. The C-17 while not receiving any fuel in this mission, but would come in below the KC-135 and connect repeatedly with the boom as if it were receiving gasoline in real life. This training continued for almost 45 minutes, before the training period ended and we headed south back towards March ARB.

I asked Staff Sergeant Nelson about his training. After his initial bootcamp training, he was sent to the Boom Operators school, and that training can take anywhere between 8 to 12  months, then he was sent to SERE school at Fairchild AFB in Washington. this is the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape. All of this before being assigned to his unit.

After several hours in flight we landed back at March AFB safety and as always thankful for these men and women, who volunteer to serve and protect our Country.

 

I want to thank Colonel Muncy, Master Sergeant Weiz, the crew of the Wild Thang, Captain Wilke, 1st Lt. Flannigan, and Staff Sergeant Nelson and of course the United States Air Force Reserve for making this opportunity a wonderful experience.


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Douglas Aguillard

Douglas (Doug) Aguillard is a Freelance Photojournalist who specializes in the Military & Aviation fields. Based in San Diego, CA, he is a Marine veteran., He currently is a photojournalist for the Military Press Newspaper, the Historical / Archival Dept. photographer for the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum at MCAS Miramar, and a very proud member of Photo Recon, and has been published in various magazines and books such as "Combat Aircraft Monthly" magazine, "Vertical " magazine, "Wings of Gold" magazine, Sikorsky Frontlines newsletter, and the San Diego Air & Space Museum's Book: "Celebrating the San Diego Air & Space Museum: A History of the Museum and it's collections".

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