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349th ARS secures Air Force level award

22 ARW

Boom operators assigned to the 349th Air Refueling Squadron pose for a photo July 19, 2019, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. The squadron earned the 2018 SMSgt Albert Evans Outstanding Air Refueling Section Award, which is given annually to the most outstanding air refueling section in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alan Ricker)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- The 349th Air Refueling Squadron was recently recognized as the 2018 SMSgt Albert Evans Outstanding Air Refueling Section Award winners.

The award is presented to the top boom operator section in the Air Force every year. This is the first time the 349th ARS has won the award.

“Since I took command, I’ve known the 349th ARS boom operators are the best in the business, and the Air Force just made it official,” said Lt. Col. Dan Schone, 349th ARS commander. “I could not be more proud of these guys. They work their butts off day in and day out – and a lot of times our boom operators aren’t recognized. We can’t do our mission without our boom operators.”

The 349th ARS was chosen out of 56 air refueling squadrons across the Air Force.

During the award period, the squadron offloaded 2.9 million pounds of fuel and supported 2,200 combat missions across the Middle East and Afghanistan. The team also brought new ideas to the table, revising their education and training programs, and even securing a win at the first ever Air Force Spark Tank competition for innovation within the unit.

MSgt Aaron Tessmann, 349th ARS Squadron Superintendent, said that, while challenging, these changes made the team stand out.

“It’s kind of a paradigm shift, really,” said Tessmann. “This is one of the oldest jets in the inventory, so we’re pretty set in our ways. We had to change our mindset with the way that we fight and the way that we train.”

Competing against more modern refueling platforms was one of the biggest hurdles for the unit. The KC-135 Stratotanker has six pallet positions for cargo, while the KC-10 Extender has 36 pallet positions. Nine of the most recent wins have been awarded to boom sections operating on the KC-10 platform.

“When you compare a KC-135 and a KC-10, one for one the KC-10 is going to have an advantage, because they can carry more and they can offload more gas,” said Schone. “Our boom operators have taken it to a different level and increased the effectiveness of how we operate. They’re getting the mission done, taking pride in it, and showing our younger folks what we can do.”

Schone stated that the unit’s mindset of prioritizing and enhancing mission success was always at the forefront of the team’s efforts.

“We don’t do our job to win trophies, but it’s nice to quantify our hard work into a win, and show our boom operators that they are better than everyone else,” said Schone.

Tessmann reflected on the unit’s accomplishments, but knows that in a world of increasingly capable near-peer adversaries, that this kind of performance must be cemented as the norm.

“If we don’t improve every single day we’re just going to fall behind,” said Tessmann. “To claim we’re the number one AF in the world, you have to keep that title. We train the way we’re going to fight, and this is a key aspect of it. Our guys are ready to go at a moment’s notice, more ready than any other tanker fleet, I can tell you that.”