The 916th’s Last KC-135 Deployment Marks The First For 77 ARS Boom Operator

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Mary McKnight
  • 916th Air Refueling Wing

The 77th Air Refueling Squadron deployed Staff Sgt. Alexander Oakes, a 77 ARS boom operator, for his first deployment to represent the 916th Air Refueling Wing in its last KC-135 Stratotanker deployment, March 27.

The 916 ARW divested their entire KC-135 fleet, but tasked Oakes to deploy on a KC-135 while attached to the 434th Air Refueling Wing out of Grissom Joint Air Reserve Base, IN.

“This is all new to me,” said Oakes. “But I am excited and I am going into this with a positive attitude.”

Upon cross-training from the maintenance career field, Oakes had approximately 14 months of boom operator training and volunteered to deploy in 2019.

“I am looking forward to just being in the air,” said Oakes. “To go from fixing airplanes on the ground to actually seeing them in flight, that close, is pretty surreal. Just being able to be in the airplane is pretty great, I’m looking forward to flying a lot.”

Oakes reflected on his time with the KC-135.

“To date I think my most memorable time with the KC-135 was a TDY (temporary duty travel) to Luke Air Force Base,” said Oakes. “We carried members of the 414 MXS (Maintenance Squadron) and refueled a couple of F-15Es, being a prior crew chief it was surreal to see them in flight from that perspective.”

After transitioning to the KC-46 the viewpoint of the boom operator will change in comparison to the view from the KC-135.

“What I’ll miss most is the view,” said Oakes. “Being in the boom pod and looking out of the window at an airplane less than 50 feet away from you is not something most people get to experience. Despite missing the view, I look forward to making new memories in the KC-46.”

KC-135 boom operators will go from laying down in the boom pod and manually refueling an aircraft to sitting upright in the front of the aircraft and refueling from a computer screen with the stroke of a fingertip.

“It represents the end of an era,” said Lt. Col. Darin D. Dial, 77 ARS commander. “The 77 ARS has been deploying Airmen in the KC-135 since 1995. It’s fitting that our youngest boom operator is the last to deploy in the KC-135. The entire squadron looks forward to leading the way toward making the KC-46 fully operational and ready to deploy. SSgt Oakes will have the unique opportunity to be one of the first to deploy in the KC-46. That’s exciting and it’s an exciting time to be in the 916 ARW.”