By Tech. Sgt. Terri Paden, 15th Wing Public Affairs
With more than 200 aircraft participating in Rim of the Pacific 2014, the 96th Air Refueling Squadron is playing an integral role in this year’s exercise.
The 96th ARS is partnering with the Hawaii Air National Guard’s 203rd Air Refueling Squadron, as well as the 465th Air Refueling Squadron from Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., the 909th Air Refueling Squadron from Kadena Air Base, Japan, and the 117th Air Refueling Squadron from Forbes Field Air National Guard Base in Topeka, Kansas to provide air refueling support to all RIMPAC air assets.
“The KC-135 Stratotanker plays a very essential role in RIMPAC,” said Lt. Col. Reese Evers, 96th ARS operations officer. “The projection of air power is vital, especially in the Pacific theater, and that couldn’t happen without the air refueling capability.”
With so many aircraft involved in the exercise, Evers said the KC-135s are needed on a daily basis since the versatile aircraft can be reconfigured to refuel most airframes.
“If it happens that a foreign aircraft ends up on our tasking order for the day, then we will refuel it,” said Evers. “That is our mission and we know the procedures to safely get our mission accomplished, regardless of what kind of aircraft it is. If we do have the opportunity to refuel a foreign aircraft, I would also consider that to be another RIMPAC success.”
In addition to providing the unit with the opportunity to strengthen their total force relationships and the chance to refuel a number of different airframes, flying training missions for RIMPAC also gives pilots in the 96th ARS the opportunity to upgrade their flying status.
“We’re going to use RIMPAC flying hours to upgrade a few co-pilots to aircraft commanders,”
said Maj. Kelly Church, 96th ARS assistant director of operations. “We’re using this opportunity to cultivate our young captains and grooming them to command a jet.”
Church said RIMPAC is an opportunity for pilots to get a broader training experience than they might get doing their daily training missions.
“This is a really good experience for them,” he said. “Flying during RIMPAC, the airspace will be busier than anything they’ve ever experienced due to the number of aircraft that are here now.”
Extra flying hours aside, Evers said RIMPAC is really about the 96th ARS doing their part to support the mission.
“During the largest Navy exercise in the world, it would be easy for the Air Force aspect to get overlooked, but every day there is a KC-135 launching in support of RIMPAC, and this is just an extension of what we do every day, which is projecting combat air-power throughout the Pacific region,” he said.