INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey --
“F-35’s (Lightning II) and F-22’s (Raptor) look really nice on a ramp somewhere, but if they don’t have a tanker to get them to the fight, they are no good. They are just static displays,” explained U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Clay Dotson, 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker instructor boom operator.
Due to the limited amount of fuel a fighter aircraft can hold, the KC-135 is critical to air support, enabling U.S. Air Force Central Command and Coalition partners to defend our forces from any threat. In order for them to continue to provide unmatched combat support, such as for Operation Inherent Resolve, it is imperative that the KC-135s are in proper working condition.
In order to provide proper combat support for OIR, the KC-135s and the crew are equipped and trained to refuel a wide variety of aircraft, enabling them to assist the U.S. Navy and Marines, France, Germany and other NATO countries.
The deployed Airmen assigned to the 22nd EARS at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, work 24/7 to provide in-flight refueling support and ensure the KC-135s are operational to support U.S. and Coalition aircraft.
“The main thing with 22nd EARS, we operate the KC-135, which is a tanker aircraft and our job is to refuel other aircraft in-flight,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Justice Coker, 22nd EARS boom operator and superintendent. “With us being in the air and close by to them, we can extend their time airborne by basically an indefinite amount of time.”
According to Coker, due to these capabilities and their strategic location at Incirlik AB, the 22nd EARS has been labeled as the number one refueling squadron of choice for the Combined Air Operations Center support to OIR, which provides airpower effects throughout the U.S. Central Command’s Area of Responsibility, a 20-nation region reaching from Egypt to Afghanistan.
“Our flight duration is about half of that of other locations. We get to the fight faster,” said Coker. “It’s a balancing act of how much fuel we burn for ourselves and how much we can give the receiver. Since it is less fly time (from Incirlik]), that means we have more fuel available to give to receivers.”
While the KC-135 is an important key to airpower, the endless support they provide often leads to a need for maintenance after each flight. Without the continuous maintenance of the aircraft, the mission would not be possible.
“These are old jets… rolling off the assembly line in 1956, they need a lot of tender love and care. The maintainers provide that,” said Coker. “Without the maintainers, we couldn’t even hope to even fight a war or to fly these jets. Without them, there would not be a mission.”
The maintainers assigned to the 22nd EARS and 22nd EAMU work around the clock to ensure that the aircraft is ready to maintain air superiority and to protect ground forces, day or night.
According to U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Caleb Tate, KC-135 crew chief, since KC-135s are vital assets to other U.S. and Coalition aircraft, it is essential for maintainers to work 24/7 because parts can break at any time.
“As maintainers, basically we make sure the aircraft are air worthy so that they are safe, ready for the mission, for personnel, and for the crews. (This allows them to) do what they need to do, which here is primarily getting the fuel to the fight,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Chad Turko, KC-135 crew chief. “It’s very important that they have worthy equipment to get it there to help fighters and any troops on the ground. That’s our job to make sure everything runs smooth and do the best that we can to get these things up in the air.”
Thanks to the Airmen of the 22nd EARS operations, maintenance, and material management flights, working around the clock to maintain the mission and operate the KC-135s, U.S. and Coalition forces are able to defend the region from any threat.