NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. --
Aircraft from all over the nation flew in and out of the Nevada sky during Red Flag 18-2, an exercise organized at Nellis AFB and held north of Las Vegas on the Nevada Test and Training Range.
Red Flag gives Airmen an opportunity to experience realistic combat scenarios to prepare and train for future conflicts or war. In support of this, Airmen from Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, and MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, flew to Nellis to represent the Tanker Task Force.
During the fast-paced exercise, fighter jets quickly burn fuel on every mission held over the 2.9 million acre NTTR. That is where KC-135 Stratotankers support by performing in-air refueling, which saves fighter jets a trip home.
“If tankers weren’t a part of this exercise, it would be less effective. The daily mission would not get done in a timely manner,” said 1st Lt. Marc Galera, 384th Air Refueling Squadron pilot. “We are here to help enable fighters accomplish their mission instantaneously by allowing them to stay airborne longer.”
A team of KC-135 pilots and boom operators from Fairchild and MacDill make the Tanker Task Force mission happen during Red Flag 18-2. Pilots assume responsibility of the aircraft by taking the aircrew to where fuel is needed while boom operators offload fuel to help fighter jets remain airborne longer to continue fighting the fight.
“As a tanker pilot, it’s our job to get our aircraft to where it needs to be on time in order for our boom operators to perform in-air refueling,” Galera said. “The tanker is a great way to support our fighter jets in successfully and effectively accomplishing the mission.”
For Senior Airman Matthew Ronnfeldt, 384th ARS boom operator, his mission is to transfer fuel to fighter jets and bombers to help extend their time in the air, which in turn allows them to have more time to get things done.
Galera joined the U.S. Air Force because of family heritage. Seeing his father and uncles serve the nation, he wanted to follow their footsteps and serve alongside the brave men and women of his country.
“It’s my duty to serve our country and what better way to do it than to be a tanker pilot,” Galera said. “Knowing that I’m enabling our first-line of defense to do their role in the mission and successfully protect our nation’s security is a huge reward in itself.”
On the other hand, the attacks of September 11, 2001, played a big part in why Ronnfeldt joined and, for him, being a boom operator has been one of the best decisions he has made in his life.
“I wanted to help serve the country after seeing what happened on 9/11,” Ronnfeldt said. “Seeing the effect and how I help other aircraft and fighter jets protect our nation whenever I do my part is a huge accomplishment.”
Regardless of their decisions to join the Air Force, Galera and Ronnfeldt are ready to go on a mission together anytime and anywhere. They have the same goal: serving and protecting the nation.
“We are a team. Without one another, the tanker mission would not be possible,” Galera added. “It’s important for us to work and communicate with each other to help us fulfill our mission more effectively and efficiently.”
KC-135 pilots and boom operators are one of many key characters in the Tanker Task Force mission. Without them, other aircraft and fighter jets would have to go back to home station just to refuel. There’s no doubt that the flying fuel depot plays an integral part in accomplishing the mission.
“As tankers, we are a force enabler,” Galera added. “We offload gas to fighter jets to remain airborne and go back to the fight in a timely manner and we stay airborne for as long as we have to; for as long as they need us there.”