Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. --
Seymour Johnson AFB is currently hosting KC-135R Stratotankers from McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, as they participate in a joint service multilateral exercise June 9-24, 2018.
During the exercise, several KC-135R Stratotankers, assigned the 22nd Operations Group’s special operations air refueling division, also known as SOAR, will provide refueling support and train with several members of the special operations community in North Carolina.
The SOAR unit’s inclusion in this exercise will enable the special operations receivers the ability to practice executing airdrop, close air support, and forward arming and refueling operations in a realistic and dynamic training environment. Participating flying units will also practice receiving fuel with minimum communications and in low-light situations, while also increasing interoperability.
“The exercise is crucial to maintain proficiency in this mission so that we can be called upon at any time and be ready to go,” said Staff Sgt. Tiffanie Ellerbe, 22nd OG SOAR logistics NCO in-charge and instructor boom operator. “It also shows us the things we have to improve to provide our users a better product. Additionally, it helps us maintain a good relationship with those users so we can integrate seamlessly in the event of a real world situation.”
This exercise will be the largest in SOAR’s history as it attempts to maximize its training in North Carolina and to prepare for challenges met in various theaters.
“This will be the first time our unit has participated in an exercise in North Carolina,” said Maj. Brad Seehawer, 22nd OG deputy chief of SOAR. “It’s a unique training setting that none of our unit’s aircrew have experienced while conducting a multilateral exercise with a SOAR mission.”
Not only does North Carolina provide a unique training setting, its coastal region also adds a different airspace dynamic.
“The opportunity to train with our special operators in a less congested and uninterrupted airspace is something that can’t be replicated,” said Seehawer. “It allows our aircrew to immerse themselves in the training and perfecting their interoperability without having to constantly vacate the airspace.”
Of the 396 KC-135 Stratotankers managed by the Air Mobility Command only a small number of the aircraft possess these specialized capabilities. None of the KC-135s currently assigned to the 916th Air Refueling Wing, the host unit of Seymour Johnson’s aircraft, are equipped to accomplish the mission of the 22nd OG’s SOAR unit. However, the infrastructure on the installation makes it an ideal host during the exercise.
“Seymour Johnson AFB is a perfect host while we are participating in the exercise,” said Seehawer. “Everything that our unit needs to conduct operations is already located here due to the base’s own KC-135 unit. It makes transitioning here for the exercise seamless.”
The SOAR detachment supports multiple users and receivers, such as the C-17 Globemaster III, the AC-130J Ghostrider and the MC-130J Commando II, which support special operations. The operations, which can include delivery of troops and cargo to multiple locations, would be hindered if fuel was not available for the aircraft at any moment. Unlike many other KC-135s, a few of the SOAR KC-135s are also receiver-capable tankers.
“The special operations tankers provide additional flexibility to our unit so that we can consolidate fuel amongst [the tankers], redistribute it, keep [the KC-135] out there longer and provide heavier offloads to the receivers that need them,” said Seehawer.
These reasons make the KC-135’s ability to stay in orbit while waiting to respond for emergency receivers a valuable line of support for aircrews accomplishing combatant commander’s strategic objectives.
Most air refueling units coordinate their operations utilizing the Tanker Airlift Control Center. However, according to Seehawer, the SOAR unit coordinates its missions differently.
“Our aircrew works primarily self-sufficiently communicating directly with our special operators conducting the mission,” said Seehawer. “By coordinating and executing our mission objectives using real world updates provided directly from the receivers, we are able to add crucial flexibility in real time.”
The KC-135-focused SOAR unit’s unique mission enables joint service special operations effects around the globe and acts as a vital arm to the nation’s national security interests.
“SOAR is important because of how dynamic it is,” said Ellerbe. “It’s a great benefit to the country to have air refueling capability at a moment's notice to extend the range of our special operations force assets.”
This article was completed in collaboration with Airman 1st Class Alan Ricker, 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs.