SAVANNAH, GA -- Three Air National Guard air refueling squadrons supported Sentry Savannah, an exercise held May 2-15th, 2022, at the Air Dominance Center, a combat readiness training center, in Savannah, Georgia.
Over 30 Airmen and four aircraft from the 133rd Air Refueling Squadron, New Hampshire Air National Guard; 117th Air Refueling Squadron, Kansas Air National Guard; and the 106th Air Refueling Squadron, Alabama Air National Guard, provided essential support for flying operations in this exercise.
“The tanker aircraft are a force multiplier for Sentry Savannah,” said Lt. Col. Stephen ‘Tracker’ Thomas, the exercise director for Sentry Savannah. “The ability to provide fuel for all of the fighters pre-vul [vulnerability window] or mid-vul allows for longer flight times and in turn more training opportunities for all the pilots involved.”
The refueling aircraft used to air refuel the over 50 fighter jets who participated in the exercise were two KC-135 Stratotankers and one KC-46 Pegasus.
While the refueling aircraft were essential to the overall operation of the exercise, the Airmen from the refueling squadrons gained critical experience and training throughout the exercise.
“One of the most rewarding parts of this exercise was getting to work with the multiple different aircraft at a high pace similar to what we might see when deployed,” said Staff Sgt. Kelsey Warren, a boom operator with the 117th Air Refueling Squadron, Kansas Air National Guard. “It’s amazing to be a part of the operation that gets to give the fighters the gas, or the beans as we call it, to keep them airborne and in the fight.”
During the exercise, the refueling wings worked alongside aircrews from multiple units to support the operation while also handling increased fuel offloads and traffic.
“The collaboration between all the units involved was a great experience and a great opportunity to prepare for future deployments where there is a high ops tempo,” said 1st Lt. Payton Haefner, a KC-135 Stratotanker pilot with the 117th Air Refueling Squadron.
In addition to working with multiple airframes, including F-15 Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-22 Raptors and F-35 Lightning IIs, Sentry Savannah offered an operational variety that the air refueling squadrons do not experience during normal flying operations.
“Usually at home-station, a flying mission is much more cut and dry with much less variation,” said Capt. Shane Dunn, a KC-135 Stratotanker pilot with the 117ARS. “At home we usually go out with a mission to refuel one, maybe two, aircraft. Here we have to learn to roll with the punches a little more, for example, adapting to changing flight plans, weather interference, fueling a variety of airframes in one flight, and handling a variety of fuel off-loads for different jets.”
Exercises like Sentry Savannah are essential to the overall readiness of our Air Force as a whole. They offer essential training and experience to members across a variety of career fields in an integrated total joint force platform to prepare our Airmen to achieve our mission of air dominance.