America Strong: Meet Fairchild Air Force Base’s refueling team

SPOKANE, Wash. — Speed, precision and patience. 

These are the requirements for pulling off one of the most important exercises at Fairchild Air Force Base. 

For the first time in his life, 4 News Now photographer Aodhan Brown was invited to watch a mid-air refueling mission aboard a KC-135. 

These missions do not happen at the base. Instead, they happen 21,000 feet up in the air. 

The person in charge of the most recent mission was Tech Sergeant Jenny Cook. 

If you think your office is small, Cook’s is even tinier. She works inside a narrow, six-foot by six foot compartment and as a boom operator, she lies in a prone position to maneuver a retractable metal arm. 

The boom is what delivers fuel to a receiving aircraft. It is a lot like threading a needle — that is if your needle was moving more than 300 miles per hour. 

“So, we actually have a checklist that we follow through all phases of flight,” Cook said. “And we have specifically called preparation for refueling. So once the pilots initiate that checklist, it’s usually when we are 30 minutes out from making contact with the receiver. Then we’ll start running the checklist and head back here and start preparing the boom pod.”

As the C-17 approaches, the arm is readied for contact while accounting for turbulence and any other outside factors. 

At its closest point, the faces of the receiver’s pilots come into view and the adrenaline runs high. 

Every minute counts. 

“So we’re cutting down on the time it takes to get an aircraft to point A to point B, but also extending the time it allows for an aircraft to stay in the fight,” said Alex Kauth, Instructor of the 509 Weapons Squadron at Fairchild. 

When American lives are on the line, every moment counts and every drop of fuel is essential to winning the fight. 

These maneuvers are not just a testament to the skills of these airmen but also their incredible teamwork and dedication. 

These refueling missions can take operators anywhere from the rolling hills of the Palouse to the crashing waves of the Pacific. 

So long as there is a need to touch the sky, this team won’t be coming down anytime soon. They are dedicating their skills to help others and what we call “America Strong.”

Do you know someone who is “America Strong?” Tell us about them below.

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