Members of the 99th Medical Group at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., were welcomed onboard two KC-135 Stratotankers by the 509th Weapons Squadron to witness aerial refueling over the Nevada Test and Training Range Dec. 3, 2021.
The Airmen were nominated for the flight by their squadron leadership after being identified as high performers in their respective squadrons. Most of the medics who participated had never been on a military aircraft prior to the flight.
Separated from the flight line by Las Vegas Boulevard, Mike O’Callaghan Military Medical Center can feel more than just geographically detached from the operational side of Nellis Air Force Base.
“Honestly, I find we, as medics, forget the big picture, because we get so focused on what’s happening within our hospital,” said 2nd Lt. Mackenzie Birkrem, group practice manager for the 99th Medical Group.
Staff Sgt. Braden Taylor, physical therapy technician with the 99th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron, agreed. “Working in the medical field, you tend to lose your sense of being in the world’s greatest Air Force and air power, so it is nice to see the other side,” he said. “Although we all play a role in the big mission of the Air Force, it’s easy to lose sight of that.”
Both Birkrem and Taylor recognized how the experience aided them in viewing their roles as Air Force medics in a more macro-level way in order to better synergize the medical mission with the operational mission.
“The flying mission overall was something I’d never been exposed to and gave me perspective to my part in the Air Force mission as a whole,” said Birkrem.
“Going on incentive flights or going on tours of the base helps you see more of the mission’s direct impact,” said Taylor. “It also gives a great opportunity to see how you can tailor your medical care to those members to help them get back to completing the mission.”
Birkrem, whose husband is in Undergraduate Pilot Training and hoping to fly KC-135s, also enjoyed the flight for that reason.
“Getting to hop into one of those tankers before he does made it fun to relish in the irony,” she said.
For the 509th WPS, the flight was equally gratifying.
“Personally, my favorite mission is aeromedical evacuation,” said Maj. Alan Wong, KC-135 Weapons School instructor. “It’s very rewarding, and I have had the chance to meet some awesome flight nurses and doctors. Flying medics around was a bonus,” he said.
Based out of Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, the 509th WPS come to Nellis twice yearly to participate in the U.S. Air Force Weapons School Integration. WSINT is a large exercise that serves as the capstone for the Weapons Instructor Course.
“At the end of the day, I believe we are similar in the sense of support and enabling the mission,” said Wong. “Medics support us for our health and take care of us. Tankers provide the fuel to reach the fighters, bombers and surveillance aircraft to help us win the fight.”