flight pic

Members of the Shaw Air Force Base Honorary Commander program stand outside a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, at Shaw AFB, South Carolina, Dec. 14, 2021. Honorary commanders are community members and leaders from a number of locations around the greater Sumter community. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Jacob Gutierrez)

SHAW AIR FORCE, S.C. — On Dec. 14, I had the privilege of flying in a KC-135 Stratotanker from Fairchild Air Force Base, to learn about pilot training, aircraft, air-to-air refueling and the airmen who fulfill those missions.

We arrived at the Deployment Processing Center at Shaw AFB and were greeted by Lisa Allen, 20th Fighter Wing community engagement chief. She took us to check in and led us into an auditorium where we received an event mission brief.

Capt. Ty “Sumo” Perich, a pilot with the 79th Fighter Squadron, educated us about the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) mission and how air-to-air refueling is a key component to mission success.

He stressed that being proficient at air-to-air refueling is important because it allows fighters to stay in the air longer, increasing lethality and the ability to support troops on the ground.

Following the mission brief, we were transported to the flight line to board the KC-135 and prepare for the flight.

The flight crew, from the 92nd Air Refueling Wing in Spokane, Wash., provided us with a warm welcome and treated us like family. During our approximately two-hour flight, honorary commanders had the opportunity to interact with the aircrew and watch as four F-16 Fighting Falcons from Shaw were refueled.

The professionalism exhibited by the tanker crew was amazing. Watching them go through the checklists, safety checks and other procedures was impressive. Observing the F-16 pilots come up underneath the tanker and connect to the boom was an unforgettable experience. The day’s experience has occupied my mind continuously and it reinforced what I have seen with all my experiences on the base. Amazing dedication by mostly young people who choose to serve, not by law or requirement but volunteered for some incredibly difficult jobs, often with long hour’s low pay and very little if any public recognition of their dedication and sacrifice.

My experience with the Honorary Commander program has given me an understanding of what it takes to keep a jet in the air and if more people could actually see what I have seen it would change their perception of the amazing people that make up the United States Air Force.

It is so important that our community has the opportunity to understand what really goes on at Shaw Air Force Base, and the honorary commander program provides a level of mission immersion that is unavailable anywhere else.

Every time I come out to Shaw Air Force Base I am amazed, I learn something new and walk away with an even deeper appreciation for everything the airmen and the United States Air Force does.

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