Reservists keep aircraft flying in huge Pacific exercise

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Grady Epperly
  • 507th Air Refueling Wing
One of the few common threads interwoven between the 26 nations and more than 200 aircraft participating in the Rim of the Pacific 2016 exercise is the need for fuel -- and a lot of it.

This is where citizen Airmen from the 507th Air Refueling Wing at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, come into play to support the world's largest international maritime exercise.

“When it comes to the air piece of RIMPAC, we are here to ensure aircraft have the fuel they need to complete their mission,” said Maj. Jeff Milburn, the detachment commander for the wing’s 465th Air Refueling Squadron.

The crews of the 465th ARS fly and operate the KC-135R Stratotanker. The KC-135 is not only capable of conducting aerial refueling; it can also carry cargo, personnel and equipment. For midair refueling it can carry more than 150,000 pounds of transfer fuel.

“The sights, sounds and sheer scale of RIMPAC are unlike any military exercise in the world,” Milburn said. “Outside of the old-style operational readiness exercises, RIMPAC is one of the few opportunities we have to deploy operations, maintainers and support staff simultaneously.”

RIMPAC is taking place from June 30 to Aug. 4 in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California, with 507th ARW personnel working out of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

“RIMPAC provides our Airmen the chance to work with other branches, aircraft and nations,” Milburn said.

The 507th ARW mission isn’t all about flying. The bulk of work actually happens on the ground.

“The various systems in the aircraft are designed to be very efficient, but they have been in operation for a while and eventually things break or malfunction,” said Staff Sgt. Kurt Weisel, an aircraft electrician with the 507th Maintenance Squadron. “Being an aircraft electrician is very interesting, because it gives me a chance to be involved in all the systems and solutions.”

The Stratotanker has been in use by the Air Force for more than 50 years, and the airframe is a military version of the civilian Boeing 707 passenger jet.

Weisel said he takes pride in being part of the refueling mission and keeping the jets in operation.

“Getting to come to RIMPAC is a privilege, and I think the fact the 507th ARW keeps getting invited back to provide the Navy air boss the logistical support they need speaks to how well we integrate with active-duty and other branches,” Weisel said. “It’s nice to be appreciated.”

RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world's oceans. This year’s exercise is the 25th one in the series that began in 1971.