By Mayor Bob Buckhorn, City of Tampa
/ Published May 16, 2017
Recently I had the opportunity to join 21 other community leaders from the Tampa Bay area to board one of MacDill’s KC-135 Stratotankers and take an overnight trip to Nellis AFB in Nevada. As Mayor I am keenly aware of the importance of MacDill AFB to our community and any chance I get to celebrate and showcase their accomplishments, I am happy to do. So when Col Vogel asked me to take part in a trip to highlight the importance of their sixty year old tankers, I jumped at the opportunity!
I am always struck by the level of responsibility the Air Force gives to their young Airmen. On our recent flight, I found myself at 24,000 feet and going about 400 mph. I was a little bit surprised when I realized the 22 year old Airman in the “boom pod” of the KC-135 Stratotanker was completely in charge of “flying” a large fuel line (they call it a boom) into the front of a multi-million dollar aircraft!
Think about this for a moment. This KC-135 crew consisted of 2 pilots, both under the age of 30 years old, a 22 year old was the boom operator. They were specifically trained and committed to refueling whatever aircraft came up behind them. That day, they were tasked to provide air refueling to a 5th generation, state-of-the-art aircraft, which can get within 50 feet behind the tanker. No other military in the world would trust their youngest Airmen with such a meticulous task, and yet the Airmen at MacDill AFB perform this task multiple times a week, at night time or day time, in good weather and in bad, in the U.S. and abroad.
What’s even more remarkable is that they’re doing all of it with aircraft that were built during President Eisenhower’s administration. These tankers are over 60 years old! The difference, here though, is that while these tankers have seen their share of war, it’s the Airmen operating them, sustaining them and making them relevant in today’s air war. The pride these young airmen take in their job is evident. They understand that the lives of the aircrew and the pilots of the planes that they are refueling hang in the balance. There’s no room for failure, no option for second place. They are expected to win – and they are!
For too long budgetary attrition has challenged our Air Force’s ability to sustain warfighting capacity as evident by these 60 year old aircraft. If we are to maintain our combat advantage in the world, we must modernize our Air Force and ready our future forces by giving them the resources necessary to win the next war decisively. We live in dangerous times and are fortunate that the men and women that choose to serve our country are willing to answer the call. Not providing them with the best technology and the best equipment does a disservice to their commitment to put themselves in harm’s way for us.
There’s no doubt that America’s Airmen are the finest professionals in any military in the world. For sixty years the tankers of Air Mobility Command and the 6th Air Mobility Wing have been answering her nation’s call. Piloted, maintained and supported by the world’s most capable Airmen. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this flight and I know that America couldn’t be in better hands.