McConnell continues to SOAR
By Airman 1st Class Alan Ricker, 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 09, 2018
MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. – There are 396 KC-135 Stratotankers managed by the Air Mobility Command. The KC-135 community supports worldwide missions, enabling global reach across a full spectrum of mission activity.
A number of KC-135s possess specialized capabilities, and these Airmen and aircraft serve as a part in the 22nd Operations Group special operations air refueling division. The McConnell KC-135-focused SOAR unit is dedicated to enabling joint service special operations effects around the globe.
The SOAR detachment supports multiple users and receivers, such as the C-17 Globemaster III, the AC-130J Ghostrider and the MC-130J Cammando 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. The KC-135 can stay in orbit while waiting to respond for emergency refuelings.
“SOAR is important because of how dynamic it is,” said Staff Sgt. Tiffanie Ellerbe, 22nd OG SOAR logistics noncommissioned officer in-charge and instructor boom operator. “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.”
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 Maj. Brad Seehawer, 22nd OG deputy chief of SOAR.
To remain qualified and current, the SOAR unit participates in training scenarios and exercises. Multiple Airmen from McConnell put their knowledge to the test and recently participated in a multi-lateral exercise, also known as an MLAT, which occurs several times a year in coordination with a wide range of receiver units.
The MLAT exercise tests the SOAR detachment on its ability to act autonomously in any location with limited communications and provide support to other military users in need of air refueling capabilities.
The unit has been developing an additional pilot program to help support a four-person crew for select special operations missions. The additional pilot watches for safety issues and is critical in the mission to communicate and conduct rendezvous with receivers that are in need of fuel.
“Over the past two multilateral exercises, [SOAR] has been training pilots to serve, not necessarily in a navigator role, but [to augment the crew],” said Seehawer. “Someone who can serve as a safety observer, who can operate communication equipment and who can maintain [battlespace awareness] while the pilots are refueling.”
After an estimated two weeks of training aircrew and participating in an MLAT exercise at Gowen Field in Boise, Idaho, Team McConnell was able to perform 16 refueling missions.
SOAR supported multiple airframes with enough fuel to continue their training with special operations. The exercise participants received practice in air refueling with minimum communications and low-light situations while flying during the night. Air refueling enabled the receivers to execute airdrop, close air support, and forward arming and refueling operations.
“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 Ellerbe. “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.”