Exercise provides nighttime air refueling training opportunity for Luke, Altus aircrews

Task force Agile Jester from the 54th Air Refueling Squadron teamed up with Airmen from the 944th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., and the Arizona Air National Guard to complete an air refueling training exercise, Nov. 15-19, 2021.

During the exercise, several KC-135 Stratotankers refueled F-35A Lightning IIs and F-16 Fighting Falcons from Luke AFB as well as C-17 Globemaster IIIs and KC-46 Pegasus’ from Altus AFB, both day and night.

Airman 1st Class Carrie Martinez, 97th Training Squadron student, refuels a C-17 Globemaster III from a KC-135 Stratotanker, Nov. 15, 2021. This was Martinezís first in-flight refueling as a boom operator, as well as her first time watching and completing a fighter jet refueling. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Kayla Christenson)

“Luke AFB requested refueling from us and usually we would send one aircraft for five days to complete that but we want to incorporate as much training as we can on our side too,” said Maj. Hans Foster, 54th Air Refueling Squadron assistant operations officer. “We sent multiple aircraft with students one day at a time so the students and instructors have time to debrief and digest the new material.”

Refueling F-35s and F-16s provided a new opportunity for Altus AFB aircrew instructors to train on a task they hope to familiarize aircrew students with more.

“The 19th Air Force asked Altus to start a familiarization program to not necessarily certify, but get students exposure to fighter jet refueling so they aren’t totally new to it in the operational field,” said Foster. “With this training we get repetition and keep instructor continuity.”

This joint training will help show the students not only what they can expect when they get to their first duty station but also instill the new Agile Combat Employment (ACE) concepts.

“The idea of ACE is to be able to maintain flexibility and operate out of multiple airfields as required, and local command authority is delegated through mission type orders that allow the team to operate on their own at these airfields,” said Master Sgt. Brendan Balko, 54th Air Refueling Squadron student training management superintendent. “ACE also incorporates multi-capable Airmen who would learn how to do many mission aspects on the ground, from assisting maintenance, to mission execution and airfield operations.”

Balko added that training missions like these will ideally reduce the need for additional aircrew training once students arrive at their first duty station.

“This business effort, along with other local opportunities at Altus, are allowing the boom students to become familiarized with fighter air refueling and hopefully this will also reduce the number of fighter flights at their gaining bases for certification,” said Balko. “I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing how this program grows and where it will go next in helping to grow better KC-135 aviators.”

Capt. Zachary Marx, 54th Air Refueling Squadron pilot, checks information in the cockpit of a KC-135 Stratotanker, Nov. 16, 2021. In addition to receiving hands-on training from the boom operators, the KC-135 pilots from Altus Air Force Base, Okla., also received in air refueling training. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Kayla Christenson)
A KC-135 Stratotanker prepares for takeoff at Goldwater Air National Guard base, Ariz., Nov. 16, 2021. The Arizona Air National Guard supported the 56th Air Refueling Squadron by providing a parking space for the aircraft when hosting the aircrew. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Kayla Christenson)
Tech. Sgt. Andrew Valence, 54th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator instructor, refuels a C-17 Globemaster III from a KC-135 Stratotanker, Nov. 15, 2021. One C-17 and one KC-46 Pegasus from Altus Air Force Base, Okla., used for air refueling training throughout the first two days of the exercise. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Kayla Christenson)

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