INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey --
Aircrew assigned to the 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron flew more than a dozen flights a day in support of Coalition operations and partner ground forces in the campaign to defeat ISIS.
Throughout the fight against ISIS, airborne refueling aircraft extended the amount of time armed overwatch and close air support was on-hand to protect and embolden the partner ground forces to continue in their advance to liberate territory from ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
“Typically, many of the receivers we serviced on any given day would fly much shorter sorties that required them to frequently sip from the tanker giving them much less time over target,” said Lt. Col. Kelly Kimsey, 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron operations officer. “For example, our A-10 brothers here can fly a seven to eight-hour sortie because we’re out there giving them gas at regular intervals and getting them back on target as quickly as possible.”
The squadron prides themselves on their efficiency and ability to keep aircraft in the fight longer.
“A lot of hard work has gone into building our reputation and we’ve gotten a ton of positive feedback from our customers,” Kimsey said. “When receiver aircraft see us on their schedule, they know that we’re going to be on time because we pay a lot of attention to airspace management. It takes up valuable time flying to and from the tanker so we try our best to help our receivers by where we position ourselves in the airspace. We can meet them closer to their targets and drop them off closer to the fight.”
Airmen from the 22nd EARS hail from a variety of backgrounds representing the total force including total force Airmen from New York and North Carolina, to active duty Airmen deployed and permanently assigned to Incirlik AB.
“This is my first deployment as a boom operator so being here is definitely new for me since my background is Army infantry,” said Staff Sgt. Thomas Smarsh, 22nd EARS boom operator. “Being around so many different crews gives me a variety of people to learn from and network with.”
That experience and the reputation the squadron boasts in the 22nd EARS is vital when reacting to aircraft emergencies.
“We took two aircraft south because of an aircraft emergency so we escorted them and made sure they had enough fuel to make it back to base safely,” said Maj. Quentin Mueller, 22nd EARS pilot. “Later that flight, we had A-10s flying from Incirlik that we brought back because one had a fuel issue. It’s already quite an accomplishment to know your keeping aircraft overhead to protect forces on the ground, but you feel even more
accomplished when you have aircraft with emergencies. Even though something has gone wrong with their aircraft, they’re comforted knowing they having us as a refueler there to ensure they get back home.”
For the Airmen supporting the squadron, seeing the pilots and boom operators in action gives them a new perspective on what air refueling brings to the fight.
“I’m a communications guy by trade so I’ve really enjoyed being able to see the flying mission and see what the crews go through on their flights,” said Master Sgt. Paul Norris, 447th Air Expeditionary Group first sergeant. “I’ve been fortunate enough to go on combat missions and so I’ve gotten a real perspective on what the flyers go through.”
Although most of the squadron is due to redeploy, Kimsey said he’s looking forward for an opportunity to return to the 22nd EARS.
“It has been one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling deployments I’ve had,” Kimsey said. “If you told me the range of experiences and emotions I’ve had to deal with since being out here I wouldn’t believe it. I would definitely come back and deploy in support of this mission again if I had the choice.”