Ops support assists with KC-135 mission during Red Flag 18-2

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Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Janelle Patiño

People hear about aircraft and fighter jets accomplishing the mission all the time, whether it be KC-135 Stratotankers refueling or fighter jets fighting the fight, but what many overlook is what happens behind the scenes and what units and agencies are involved to authorize those flights.

Airmen from the 92nd Operations Group from Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., 6th OG from MacDill AFB, Fla., and 931st Operations Support Squadron from McConnell AFB, Kansas, flew to Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., in support of the KC-135 Stratotankers’ role in exercise Red Flag 18-2.

Upon the aircrew’s arrival, the 92nd OG planners take charge by ensuring all aspects of the mission are developed. They set up flight plans and briefings to enable a smooth transition from the moment the aircrew arrives to the moment they land.

“We ensure the aircrews have all the materials they need to fly by setting up plans and procedures and going to meetings where I can gather more information about the mission,” said Capt. Casey Lynn, 384th Air Refueling Squadron planner. “Without us, it would be a lot more difficult for them because they would have to dig through a lot of information for their upcoming flights. We show up earlier than everybody else so by the time the crews arrive, they have everything they need to know in front of them.”

Remaining vigilant, flexible and having patience is vital in being a planner as they deal with a lot of changes and challenges throughout the day.

A 92nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief marshals a KC-135 Stratotanker on the flight line during Red Flag 18-2 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., March 12, 2018. Red Flag is a realistic combat training exercise involving air, space and cyber forces of the U.S. and its allies. It provides pilots with training using real-time war scenarios.

“As planners, we need to be on time and be flexible especially with Red Flag 18-2 because it changes as it happens,” Lynn said. “As a whole, organization and continuity of knowledge with this type of exercise is important. It makes everything go smoothly, not just for the aircrew, but also for us.”

Intelligence Airmen from the 92nd Operations Support Squadron then provide threat details to the aircrew prior to flight and post-flight.

“We work directly with mission planners to provide all of the details for the aircrew to accomplish their mission securely,” said Staff Sgt. Steven Close, 92nd OSS intelligence analyst. “Especially in today’s generation, there are a lot of systems and capabilities that are advancing and changing every day. It’s our job to provide important insight to the aircrew so they can better fulfill their mission.”

In this exercise, intelligence Airmen provide mission briefs with an overview of what the aircrew can expect along their route when accomplishing the Red Flag mission, Close added.

Then Airmen from the 92nd OG’s Squadron Aviation Resource Management office come into play, to ensure pilots and boom operators are current and qualified with their training, which earns them a “go” to fly and accomplish the mission.

“We are here to make sure aircrew members are qualified and current with their training prior to safely executing the mission,” said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Rivera, 93rd Air Refueling Squadron SARM NCO in charge. “We do this to ensure that the aircrews are properly trained and have completed all of their flying requirements.”

Without SARM, the risk of missions being executed carelessly and unsafely increases.

“Each aircrew has to complete a certain amount of training requirements and we help by keeping track of them before they go on a flight,” Rivera said. “We don’t just keep track of their training requirements, but we also keep track of their aeronautical qualification, physical and physiological training.”

KC-135 Stratotankers taxi down the taxiway during Red Flag 18-2 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., March 12, 2018. Red Flag gives Airmen an opportunity to experience realistic combat scenarios to prepare and train them for future conflicts.

Another aspect to a safer tanker mission is the Aircraft Flight Equipment technician’s role, which is to fully equip the aircraft with emergency supplies such as oxygen apparatus and life rafts.

“We provide emergency equipment for the aircrew to use to survive in case of an aircraft malfunction,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Edwards, 92nd OSS AFE journeyman. “In addition, we make sure to inspect each and every piece of equipment we have to ensure they are in working status.”

In addition to ensuring the aircrew’s safety, Airmen from the 931st OSS combat crew communications safeguard the security of the communications between the aircrew and the air traffic control towers.

“We secure their communications so they don’t have to worry about the enemy intercepting the signal,” said Staff Sgt. Lyle Groth, 931st OSS combat crew communications.

This team effort makes the tanker task force mission possible.

“We need our operations support to accomplish the tasks necessary to fly,” said Maj. Stephen Massey, 92nd Air Refueling Squadron Red Flag 18-2 detachment commander. “Without Airmen creating mission plans and orders, securing communication channels and inspecting and maintaining equipment, our aircrews can’t accomplish the mission. Everybody has a piece to play and all the pieces have to function together for the overall effect in accomplishing the mission successfully.”