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A Day in the life of a KC-135 Boom Operator-Operation Enduring And Iraqi Freedom-true story

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posted on Jun, 16 2013 @ 02:35 PM
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"Pilot, Boom's stowed and Latched, Checking off with Oxygen"
1-1C-135(K)(R)(I)-1-1: Flying Two Aircraft In Close Vertical Proximity Is Unsafe.

It's been a while since I resurrected the Boom Operator Picture/Question and Answer thread, but in light of our tragic accident this week, I feel it's necessary to let fellow members know exactly what a boom operator does on a daily basis. At any given time there are roughly 1200 boom operators in the military, with only six to seven hundred active duty. That's a small group to belong to. Every single bomb that is dropped in combat operations has been "touched" so to speak by a boom operator. We are the force extender in the War on Terrorism, Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, etc. September 11, 2001, when the second plane struck the World Trade Center, our base went into threatcon DELTA. The base was locked down and all tanker crews were sent home to pack and get crew rest. Around 10pm that night, the first crews started getting called for deployments. Sept 12, 2001, at 2:30 am, we launched from Grand Forks AFB, ND and headed to Goose Bay, Canada to set up the Air Bridge. For those not in the Military or have never heard, the Air Bridge is just as it sounds: A way to get fighters and bombers from the United States into the AOR as quick as possible. Tankers went to Goose Bay, Thule, Iceland, Mildenhall RAF, etc., and launched to keep fighters and bombers airborne on a continuous mission to the middle East. After one flight in the Air Bridge, our tanker was deployed to a tiny remote nation in the Persian Gulf, home of the Fifth Fleet of the Navy, Bahrain.

Bahrain wasn’t this great paradise city full of places called “gold town” or even full of beaches for us. We had a runway and a building when we first arrived. Crews were already setting up makeshift tents in the tiny island nation for future aircrews to get rest before the combat missions started. Some tankers were already flying the three and a half hours into Afghanistan, completely around Iran airspace, to avoid conflict with that country (they were already shaking). The weird part about being in Bahrain was that the location was deemed classified at the time and designated with a base “(letter)” designation (not sure if that has been declassified yet…but we will call it base Q). Slowly but surely we built up base Q to the point that it was homey enough to live on. We even had a gulf course (completely sand of course), and our own private beach access (of course with barb wire preventing anyone from taking a swim in the wonderful Persian Gulf).

Because of the close proximity to Iran, we lived in a constant threat of some crew flying into their airspace and violating some law, allowing for the launch of Iran’s missiles in our direction. Luckily we had Patriot batteries surrounding the base (and they were used once in the Middle East on an aircraft, although at a different location). For the next two to three weeks, we flew everyday, and when we weren’t flying or sleeping, we were constructing the base.
Our first deployment lasted 93 days, which is quite a bit for any aircrew in the Air Force due to FAA flight restrictions (yes they still had oversight, even during war). After the first deployment, we were sent home to rest and “reset” our flying hours. As soon as we remembered who our families were, we were sent back out to the desert (two weeks at home…). Most boom operators ribbon racks resembled those of General Officers
Here’s mine:


This type of air campaign would go on for a year until things finally settled down enough in Afghanistan for the constant bombing to cease. But soon we would be fighting a different war. A war that some people would question in the deadly aftermath.

On March 17, 2003, President Bush gave his famous speech telling Saddam and his sons that they had 48 hours to leave Iraq or face war “at a time of our choosing”. By this time we were in Al Udeid AB, Qatar, along with a heavy buildup of every aircraft imaginable (and some still classified). I remember a squadron meeting once where the OPS Group Commander told us to “be careful what you say over the phone, and pay no attention to the black, pointy shaped aircraft and others that were coming to the base”. Tension was rising at the base, since we were on constant alert of the impending Iraq war, all the while still flying the three and a half hour each way flights into Afghanistan.
It was hard to not notice the F-117’s fly into the base. Everyone knew they were coming, arriving months before the Iraq war kicked off in March. When they first got into country, we were pushing boom operators through training so fast just to get them into the AOR that most were not qualified to refuel the damn thing! Much to the dismay of the full bird’s and stars on the base and AOR, training sorties commenced, at night, under the utmost of secrecy. Were pretty sure Saddam knew they were there anyway so why did it matter.
On March 20th, between midnight and one in the morning local time, the tankers launched on their missions, but instead of heading east into Afghanistan, they headed north to the Saudi border. That first night was kind of nerve racking. This wasn’t like Afghanistan, where your worst threat was going to be some Taliban guy shooting a MANPAD at us. This was Iraq, and a somewhat Iraqi Airforce that was pretty much destroyed 11 years earlier by Bush senior. The same Nighthawks that took out the air defense of Iraq in Desert Storm were going to do the job again, without a single loss of life or aircraft. That had to be demoralizing to the Iraqi military to know they couldn’t stop the inevitable, again! F-117’s, with the tankers supporting them, were only responsible for one percent of the flights in Iraq during Desert Storm yet inflicted over 40 percent of the damage without a single dent on an aircraft!
Tankers and the boom operators that flew on them did their jobs and did them with 100% mission effectiveness. We never cancelled a flight, broke down (like we would in Hawaii), or complained about flying. Training flights completed, we were ready to go to war, again. Before the “go” order was given, we had several air refueling tracks located on the Saudi side of the border, with a tanker stacked at every three thousand feet. Here’s a picture of what it would look like, except imagine a tanker at every 3k feet from 18,000 to 31,000 feet!)

(The blue tracks were where the tankers were before the “go” order, and the red is where we ended up after the order.)

This marks the second time in our history that a tanker was “in country” so to speak. Only one tanker had ever flown into Iraqi airspace due to the HVAA or High Value Airborne Asset placed on tankers in general, and that was during Desert Storm when we launched fighters to the eastern part of Iraq to prevent defectors to Iran. Some other members of this club include AWACS, JSTARS, RIVET JOINT, COBRA BALL, etc.




posted on Jun, 16 2013 @ 02:35 PM
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Taking off in silence and radio silent, we were still following this procedure as we made our way to our new refueling tracks in Iraq. Fifty miles south of Baghdad, we were sitting in the dark waiting for signs of the war to begin. And then it happened. F-117’s stationed at Al Udeid AB, Qatar, began dropping bombs in Baghdad in an attempt to kill Saddam and his son’s on the first night. This was almost exactly 50 hours after President Bush gave his “48 Hours” speech. Then the fun began.

Looking back the last two years of my Air Force career, I was fortunate to refuel the F-117 on several occasions, however, always during the day time. At night was another story. Daytime refueling with a stealth was stressful enough. Just hitting a stealth with RAM coating outside of the receptacle meant an ass chewing when you got back to base, not to mention the possible affect it could have on a jets stealth capability. Now we were facing refueling the F-117’s and “others” at night, with no lights on, and no radio talk. Receiver aircraft simply flew to where they knew the tanker would be and got enough fuel to get back to home base to reload. It was a free for all. Usually when we launched on a combat mission we knew exactly what receiver aircraft we would have, including their type, callsign, scheduled fuel offload, etc. But not that night. It was “stay until bingo” and RTB. Some crews even had enough time to offload their fuel, return to the base, jump on another fueled up jet, and set back out again to join the fight.

One of the more impressive sights to see on that March night was witnessing the tomahawk cruise missiles coming off of the ships in the Persian Gulf and hitting their targets in Baghdad, as we orbited fifty miles south of the city, with the best view I might add. On that morning, Stealths, alongs with helo’s, F-16’s, F-15’s, hell the whole damn Air Force destroyed Iraq’s Air Force and defensive countermeasures along the Persian Gulf and Kuwait, allowing the Marines to advance northward and start taking out Iraq’s Army.

After “Shock and Awe” was over, tankers were a permanent fixture in Iraq. With little to no Air Force and hardly any small arms to reach us, we flew over the country with ease, allowing us to get right above the F-16’s, F-15’s, and A-10’s performing bombing runs or CAP missions. All they needed to do was simply refuel with the tanker flying 10,000 feet above them instead of flying 50-100 miles away from their CAP areas to get gas. Strike Eagle drivers recorded record flight hours during this time frame because of the continuous 24/7 support from tankers performing combat missions. Combat Support missions were a thing of the past, and tankers were here to stay.

I would go on to serve another three and a half years as a boom operator, and getting out at my six year point with over 2300 flight hours, over 1000 combat and combat support hours, 200 plus combat and combat support sorties, as well as being a Certified Flight Instructor Boom and eventually an Evaluator Boom. Most booms during this time frame flew around the same hours as me, and it will probably go down in history as one of the busiest times for tankers thus far.
Ten years later I’m watching the news and reading on ATS about a possible C-135 crashing in Kyrgyzstan, hoping and praying that the crew made it out safe, even knowing the slim chances of surviving a jump from a KC-135. I guess I decided to write this in the memories of the two pilots and boom operator of jet 63-8877 who gave the ultimate sacrifice along with a long list of Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines that had before them. We may never know the real story about what happened to that jet, but we do know that the events of the last few months (C-12, 747, KC-135) are tragic to say the least.



posted on Jun, 16 2013 @ 02:36 PM
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I think a question and answer is in order. And if we have any more booms on the forum your input is greatly appreciated.

But before I stop writing, I want to say that being a boom operator takes more skill than one might think. Most people would say that we lay down, pass gas, and have two officers take us to work! Well, that’s true, but there’s a tad more to it than that. If anyone is thinking about becoming a boom operator here’s a few helpful tips: IT’S THE BEST JOB IN THE AIR FORCE!!!! Ok I’m a little bias in that, but you got to admit that it’s pretty cool. Also, keep in mind the ever changing Air Force and our greedy need for technology when deciding on a career as a boom. We do have the KC-46 coming up and the boom pod is a thing of the past. There was a time when I was at the back of the jet with my bose headset on and the noise cancellation activated and it was like total peace. So quiet and peaceful looking out the rear of the jet, with nothing on my mind but what cool plane would I see today. Then other days you would take off, the APU would catch on fire, and the smoke alone was enough to suffocate you. We would dump 10,000 pounds of fuel while in the pattern and land the plane in an emergency. Depth perception was key to mastering the job as well. Without depth perception, you weren’t able to be a boom. Now with the 3-D cameras employed on the KC-46, who knows what kind of qualifications will be needed. Maybe the fine craft of being a boom operator will finally be the video game everyone thought we were playing to begin with.
Check out these threads for more info on Boom Operator and what we do, including pics!
Most recent one here…www.abovetopsecret.com...
13 pages here…www.abovetopsecret.com...



posted on Jun, 16 2013 @ 03:12 PM
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Many, many thanks for this brilliant write-up, boomer135! That map really helps to get the picture. I'd read Gen. Horner's descriptions about Desert Storm, when the Iraqis invaded Kuwait, and while there was a lot of detail about the ways and means you talk about, you just seem to make it so much clearer. But his perspective was ops and also as a fighter pilot; you were with the crews that kept them in the air!

And though I'm not American, thank you for serving your country and especially for taking on a role that I'm sure was a lot more scary at times than we who've never done your specialized work can possibly imagine.


~Mike



posted on Jun, 17 2013 @ 01:34 PM
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Originally posted by JustMike
Many, many thanks for this brilliant write-up, boomer135! That map really helps to get the picture. I'd read Gen. Horner's descriptions about Desert Storm, when the Iraqis invaded Kuwait, and while there was a lot of detail about the ways and means you talk about, you just seem to make it so much clearer. But his perspective was ops and also as a fighter pilot; you were with the crews that kept them in the air!

And though I'm not American, thank you for serving your country and especially for taking on a role that I'm sure was a lot more scary at times than we who've never done your specialized work can possibly imagine.


~Mike


Thanks for the kind words Mike! I've written several stories for sites like aviationintel.com and aviationweek.com. I might post a few on here. I didn't even know this short story forum existed! Hey do I get a "writer" label under my name now?? jkjk



posted on Jun, 19 2013 @ 01:55 AM
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reply to post by boomer135
 


Husband and I are ex-military, Army, and I sure do know what the challenges are for you and what it is like to put your life on the line everyday. Of course, our dealy was in the 60's....not Iraq and such...but memories are still with us. Old friends still live on in our hearts and minds from that time...one never forgets.

We live near Barksdale Air Force base in Louisiana now and I am always fascinated still to watch the various planes take off and we go to the air shows and am always in awe and thrilled to see what those fellows can do. Blessings, hugs and much love to you my brother in arms. I pray for the day war will become obsolete. For those that are not affected by it....well, it really is hell as the writers say....at least for some folks. Take care.




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