AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar, –
After nearly five hours of flying above Afghanistan, the call finally came. “Alright guys, the first receivers are about 10 mikes out. Let’s get ready to do this,” announced the KC-135 Stratotanker pilot to his team.
As aircraft quickly approach, the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker’s aircrew carefully complete the necessary checklists to ensure they can accomplish their mission of delivering fuel to U.S. and coalition forces and, in turn, enabling war-winning airpower.
“We provide fuel for warfighters, bombers, transportation and cargo jets,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Jordan Paragoso, a pilot assigned to the 28th EARS. “We also provide fuel for fighters conducting over-watch of U.S. Navy ships and U.S. Army troop movements. By refueling other flying units, we extend their missions and provide them extra time to help our forces on the ground.”
To enable these warfighting capabilities, Stratotankers function with at least a three-person crew consisting of a pilot, copilot and an enlisted in-flight refueling specialist who operates the extended ‘gas pump’ from the tail of the aircraft.
“Success of the mission requires each crew position to understand and be proficient in their own responsibilities,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Joshua Kruenegel, an in-flight refueling specialist assigned to the 28th EARS. “My job is part loadmaster and part refueling expert. What I really love about my job is that I’m a backup for the rest of my team.”
In January 2020 alone, the 28th EARS offloaded approximately 50 million gallons of fuel to U.S. and coalition aircraft, and Kruenegel isn’t the only one who thinks the unit’s success rates reflect their emphasis on teamwork.
“I couldn’t do these missions without the rest of my team,” Paragoso said. “Our crew has such a brotherhood because of how we communicate and trust one another.”
Flying above ever-changing and sometimes hostile areas, the Stratotankers’ aircrew members each have distinct responsibilities, but operate under a system of checks and balances to ensure their safety and mission success.
“When I’m in the back during a refueling, they can’t see and I have to be their eyes, ears and voice,” Kruenegel said. “They put a lot of faith in me to go back there and be successful, because at the end of the day without this jet fuel, aerial missions couldn’t happen.”