The US has a known affection for what is known as “March Madness" - Britain on the other hand does not hold basketball in high regard when it comes to sports.
This March, USAFE (US Air Force – Europe) imported its own version of “March Madness." The 100th ARW based at RAF Mildenhall stood and continuously stands up to the challenge of high tempo ops. Following a very busy 2015, 2016 is looking just as demanding for UK based US Military personnel.
This month its units are participating in exercise “Cold Response," the exercise’s purpose is to enhance USAFE’s capabilities across Europe while strengthening military ties and interoperability among NATO Allies.
As part of this exercise USAFE’S “Triple Nickel” F-16s from the 31st Fighter Wing based out of Aviano AFB Italy are also participating, flying almost daily long range missions across Europe. These missions provide not only a valuable training exercise for crews partaking in the mission, but also for US command on the various levels to learn what complications may arise when deploying large forces across the Globe.
This is not the first time I have had the experience of the 100ARW’s high tempo of ops and constant changing of mission profiles - this month’s “Cold Response” exercise support only enhances it.
It is safe to assume that Lt. Col. Michael Parks, 351st Air Refueling Squadron commander (part of the 100th) has an extremely busy unit to oversee. The 100th is probably the busiest aerial refueling unit in the USAF inventory. They maintain alert status at a higher rate than most if not all other USAF Refueling Squadrons.
Missions with the 100th vary in length, but the nature of them are usually pretty straightforward – support US Airmen based in Europe, Africa, and wherever they are needed. Stand up time for the mission profile I am set to fly with the 100th is 2 a.m., not unusual for the 100th Airmen on a “regular” day.
My crew for the mission consists of three: Instructor Pilot Capt. Aron Noble, Lt. Adam Lubin and Boom Operator Sgt. Donovan Kennedy. Additionally I was escorted by Sgt. Richard Ware from Mildenhall’s Public Affairs Office. As I mentioned, it is the middle of the night, but for these Airmen, working weird hours is all part of the job. We brief on the units designated to join us, as well as weather and safety aspects of the flight.
Our mission today is to support the “Cold Response” exercise, we will be flying to the northern tip of Norway and refueling a variety of aircraft directed our way. This year, the following nations participate in “Cold Response”: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the USA, the United Kingdom and Norway. In addition, there are several participating units from NATO.
The exercise is meant to provide credible training in extreme weather conditions. The 100th ARW feels the brunt of the current ramp up of activity in Northern Europe such as this exercise - from Lapland in the north to the Turkish border in the south of the continent, Europe is showing signs of uneasiness and military build up. The 100th has supported most USAFE deployments, from F-15s in Turkey, A-10s in Bulgaria, B-52s to Norway and Portugal, and additionally the 100th has been supporting French operations against terrorists in Mali.
We make it to the flight line. Outside the temperatures are sub zero and there is quite a bit of ice on the aircraft. My main concern is clear windows, but Captain Noble assures me that the windows will be de-iced to my satisfaction, and sure enough the ground crews are busy shortly after in bringing the aircraft to tip top shape in freezing weather.
These KC-135s are the backbone of the US Air Forces mobility might; built in the late 50s, their capabilities lie in their trustworthy dependable design and upgrades along the years.
We roll out into the darkness of the English countryside, and moments later we are racing down Mildenhall’s runway into the black skies. Our call sign for this mission is “Quid 75” and we are heading towards an area known by ardent travelers as Lapland, a place that is virtually untouched by humans at the northern edge of Norway.
We are set to rendezvous with various aircraft participating in the exercise. As we approach our track the sun begins to rise, and the view is absolutely breathtaking.
Shortly thereafter we are getting hailed on the comms by “Nickel 12” looking to refuel. I tag along with Sgt Donovan Kennedy our Boomer, and lie down next to him in the back of the aircraft awaiting our receivers. Soon enough Sgt Kennedy is engaging an F-16 from the 31FW “Triple Nickel”. Their four ship approaches in turn and Kennedy deftly refuels all four. Next it is Norwegian Air Force F-16s including one with a special “Tiger Tail." We refuel another four ship of the Norwegians before the group of Triple Nickels return.
Before they part, I ask if they can line up behind the boom in a show of force; the leader of the force obliges and for two whole minutes I am just snapping away. I hear Kennedy tell me “ten more seconds” and sure enough right at the mark they break away.
Just like that its another day in the office for “Quid 75’s” crew. We proceed over the coast of Norway with an extraordinary view, something of the likes I have never seen before.
We have a two hour flight back to Mildenhall. Along the way while speaking with the crew I find out that Lt. Lubin is a third generation pilot in the USAF; his grandfather fought in WW2 as part of the same Squadron back when they were bombers, and his father flew KC-135s, just like him. One cannot help but sense a certain family tradition when the subject comes up.
Soon enough we land in Mildenhall. For me, these visits and stories are very few and infrequent - for my crew, however, this was just another, regular day at the office.
Yissachar Ruas would like to thank the 100th ARW PAO’s Office, SrA Victoria Taylor, Sgt. Rich Ware on supporting the story, as well as LtC. Michael Parks on his and the unit’s hospitality during the time spent with the unit as well as the men and women of the 100th not mentioned who work day and night away from home.