Jack of all trades

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jenna K. Caldwell
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Within a few days notice, he was on a KC-135 Stratotanker headed to Moron Air Base, Spain, to set up an air refueling squadron’s communication system. After 16 years in the Air Force this was only his second ride in a tanker.

Tech. Sgt. Clayton Allen, 22nd Air Refueling Wing Plans and Programs NCO in-charge, isn’t a communications Airman by trade, he’s a water and fuels systems maintenance Airman pulled from the 22nd Civil Engineer Squadron. He is self-taught in computer programming, satellite and ground command and control radio systems.

Allen was tasked with short-notice temporary duty assignment to Moron AB, Spain, as a missions support liaison from Sept. 28 – Oct. 12.

McConnell KC-135s and Airmen and are currently deployed to Spain in continued support of Operation Juniper Micron, providing air refueling and airlift support to French aircraft conducting operations in Mali and North Africa.

This deployment marks the first time that KC-135s from the 22nd ARW have supported the OJM mission, so the McConnell-led task force had to set up an entire operation from the ground level.

“Allen was critical to mission success,” said Maj Andrew, 351st Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron detachment commander. “I needed a last-minute jack-of-all-trades member to ensure operations could be setup as soon as possible.”

Allen single-handedly developed and built radio communication equipment necessary for the crisis action team to monitor and communicate mission-essential information with the KC-135 aircrew while on the ground and during arrival and departure.

“Since I have a certain knowledge about radios, I was able to improve the range in which we could talk to the pilots,” said Allen. “[Previously] the max measure distance was 230 - 240 miles. I was able to double the range that base operations could and came in way clearer.”

Radio communication is essential for the detachment commander to be able to speak with the allies being refueled, keeping them updated on maintenance issues with our aircraft and how it may affect our ability to support their mission, said Allen.

“I literally [taught myself] a manual on Harris radios on a weekend trip to Kansas City, to figure out how to make this system work so we could talk to the aircraft,” said Allen. “I consider myself to be a Swiss Army knife. I don’t like to be limited by my Air Force specialty code. If there’s a problem, I’m going to research it and hit the books until I find a solution.”

By the time McConnell Airmen landed in Spain, Allen only had two days to set up radio communications and ensure the team was ready for their first mission.

“There was necessary equipment and instructions that were not mentioned in the deployment orders that they needed when they landed—which is why they needed a guy like Allen,” said Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda, 22nd ARW XP superintendent. “He shows up and makes things happen quickly. His abilities, his passion and all his hobbies all came into fruition in one single job.”

In preparation for this deployment, Allen helped update over 400 mission-essential equipment items for the detachment commander, ensuring mission readiness.

“[This essentially] created Air Mobility Command’s first fully-integrated tanker ground command and control system,” said Andrew. “Allen’s development of the network set the standard for any future United States Air Force initial tanker deployment set-ups.”

McConnell KC-135s supplemented the workload of KC-135s assigned to the 100th ARW, RAF Mildenhall, U.K., which typically conducts this mission. RAF Mildenhall is temporarily unable to support the mission due to flightline construction at Istres-Le Tubé AB, France, and Naval Station Rota, Spain, according to headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa.

Allen played a very large part in the hand-over crew from Rota, Spain, where this mission set previously operated out of. He orchestrated all the transport of vehicles and equipment, helped maintenance offload equipment and passengers and served as acting detachment first sergeant, explained Bachleda.

“An AFSC is just a number when it comes to Allen,” said Bachleda. “I can guarantee you he is the only plumber in Air Force history who has ever deployed to set up an air refueling squadron and their network communications, and not only did he do it, but he improved it and made it look effortless.”