Air Force refueling aircraft support humanitarian operations in Africa

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class David Bernal Del Agua
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
A successful KC-135 Stratotanker deployment to East Africa took place early this spring to support African Union-led efforts to provide humanitarian relief and to fight against the region's terrorists.

Two KC-135s provided air refueling to U.S. forces supporting the African Union Regional Task Force's efforts to defeat threats posted by the Lord's Resistance Army.

"This was very unique in the sense that we're building partnerships with other countries and we're helping the African Union Regional Task Force go after a group in Africa that has continued to terrorize innocent people," said Lt. Col. Ben Jonsson, 384th Air Refueling Squadron commander. "It is extremely rewarding to be part of a humanitarian operation to create a safer place for the people of East Africa."

Despite challenges associated with any type of deployment to a foreign country, the Airmen persevered.

"The crews overcame challenging weather conditions and logistical issues in order to complete the mission," said Capt. Dominique Willis, 384th ARS pilot. "It was a very rewarding experience. I felt honored to be chosen as one of the aircraft commanders to employ the KC-135 in a way never done before to help the African Union."

McConnell's air refueling team arrived at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, where the Airmen prepared for forward movement to two locations on the continent.

"Our team went to extraordinary lengths to ensure our mission was a success, and it was an absolute privilege to lead them," said Jonsson. "For me, this mission was a professional highlight of my career. Leading in a deployed environment... you just can't beat it."

One element went to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, while a second team went to Entebbe, Uganda.

"Having a portion of our maintenance team located at a different location was indeed a challenge," said Willis. "However, our maintainers worked as a team to fix any maintenance issues we encountered."

According to Jonsson, this separation added personnel, timing, and communications challenges to launching and recovering aircraft, but the team worked together to accomplish the goal.

"Operations, maintenance, and support all overcame significant resource limitations," said Jonsson. "The maintenance team in Djibouti was on phone stand-by to help trouble-shoot problems, and we shuttled different specialist to our location when needed."

The mission required members of the 384th ARS to coordinate with multiple U.S. military commands, the African Union Regional Task Force, and African partner nations.

"Integration is a huge part of the operation when you're dealing with a joint environment," said Jonsson. "Our special operations air refueling crews had to expedite a $1 million system repair and connection in order to communicate with the joint partners to ensure consistent response to changes."

The repairs and adaptive flight planning helped joint forces fly missions with no delay, diversion or negative impact due to KC-135 maintenance issues.

"This was a very special mission to be a part of for McConnell, and specifically for the 22nd Operations Group," said Jonsson.