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Airman tops off 8,000th hour career milestone

A B-1B Lancer approaches a KC-135 Stratotanker July 17, 2014, during a refueling flight supporting Operation Enduring Freedom over Afghanistan. The B-1B Lancer is a four-engine supersonic variable-sweep wing, jet-powered strategic bomber used by the Air Force. It was first envisioned in the 1960s as a supersonic bomber with Mach 2 speed. The B-1B is assigned to the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron and the KC-135 is with the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron. Both aircraft are stationed at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Colin Cates)

A B-1B Lancer approaches a KC-135 Stratotanker July 17, 2014, during a refueling flight supporting Operation Enduring Freedom over Afghanistan. The B-1B Lancer is a four-engine supersonic variable-sweep wing, jet-powered strategic bomber used by the Air Force. It was first envisioned in the 1960s as a supersonic bomber with Mach 2 speed. The B-1B is assigned to the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron and the KC-135 is with the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron. Both aircraft are stationed at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Colin Cates)

Senior Master Sgt. Floyd W. Atkins refuels a B-1B Lancer July 17, 2014, over Afghanistan. Aerial refueling extends the capabilities of any aircraft by expanding the range of the aircraft. Atkins is a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron boom operator. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Colin Cates)

Senior Master Sgt. Floyd W. Atkins refuels a B-1B Lancer July 17, 2014, over Afghanistan. Aerial refueling extends the capabilities of any aircraft by expanding the range of the aircraft. Atkins is a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron boom operator. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Colin Cates)

Senior Master Sgt. Floyd W. Atkins performs preflight checklists at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, July 17, 2014. The pilots and boom operator all go through preflight checks to ensure all systems are operating properly and the aircraft is mission ready prior to takeoff. Atkins’s reached his 8,000th refueling hour during the mission. Atkins is 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron boom operator. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Colin Cates)

Senior Master Sgt. Floyd W. Atkins performs preflight checklists at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, July 17, 2014. The pilots and boom operator all go through preflight checks to ensure all systems are operating properly and the aircraft is mission ready prior to takeoff. Atkins’s reached his 8,000th refueling hour during the mission. Atkins is 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron boom operator. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Colin Cates)

Senior Master Sgt. Floyd W. Atkins  is hosed down after reaching his 8,000 flight hour mark  July 17, 2014, on Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.  Atkins is a boom operator with the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron. He is deployed from the 151st Air Refueling Squadron, Tennessee Air National Guard. Boom operators typically only reach 5,000-6,000 refueling hours in their career. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Colin Cates)

Senior Master Sgt. Floyd W. Atkins is hosed down after reaching his 8,000 flight hour mark July 17, 2014, on Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. Atkins is a boom operator with the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron. He is deployed from the 151st Air Refueling Squadron, Tennessee Air National Guard. Boom operators typically only reach 5,000-6,000 refueling hours in their career. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Colin Cates)

AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Whether it is the achievement of earning a degree, the excitement of receiving a driving license or persevering through that first marathon, certain events mark a milestone that reflect accomplishment and have lifelong effects.

For Senior Master Sgt. Floyd W. Atkins, a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, one such milestone was reaching 8,000 refueling hours in his career, a rare feat for a boom operator.

"The milestone signifies the love for what I do," Atkins said. "Reaching the 8,000 hours means I have been blessed to maintain good health. Good enough to remain on flying status for 28-plus years."

"My hope is that I can reach the 8,765 hour mark, which would equal one full year of flying time," Atkins said. “I think I will have to get a patch that says 1-50 since I will probably be fifty when I reach that mark."

But even Atkins had to start somewhere, just like every other boom operator, he said.

"The feeling as a young boom operator was one of amazement," Atkins said. "I couldn't believe the Air Force was letting me do this for a living. One of my first missions was refueling the Thunderbird just after arriving at my first duty station. It's got to be the greatest job ever!"

Atkins now has the privilege of seeing the new faces in the boom operator career field and relives some of the same feelings he had as a young boom.

"Being a boom is special, no two days are the same, and again it's a rush of excitement at times,” he said. “Now it's fun to watch a brand new boom refuel and get excited, and see that same look on their face, that I had over twenty years ago.

"Looking back I never gave much thought as to how many hours I had, to me I was just doing what I enjoyed and never worried about the hours," Atkins said. "Only recently has it become interesting as people are amazed by the number of hours I have logged."

Along with racking thousands of hours in the sky, Atkins has earned a degree and spends time with his wife and two children.

"In my free time I enjoy spending time with my family," he said. "We are huge Tennessee Volunteers fans and I love watching football. We all love to travel, as well. So when not traveling with work I am often traveling with the family."

Atkins, a Knoxville, Tennessee native, works close to home, being assigned to the 151st Air Refueling Squadron, on McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, Tennessee.

"As far back as I can remember I've wanted to fly and travel," Atkins continued. "This career has been perfect for that, but, it is the friends, experiences, and the variety that keeps me doing this year after year."

Atkins said he has been able to see the world and enjoy experiences that transcend the hours he logged.

"As I reflect back, the Air force and Air National Guard have given me everything they promised and more," Atkins said. "I've covered a lot of ground in those 8,000 hours."

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