From Exercise to Reality: The Bloody 100th’s Role in Syria Operation

Twelve KC-135 Stratotankers assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing taxi down the runway at RAF Mildenhall, England, Feb. 27, 2018. The show of force maneuver demonstrates the readiness of the wing to provide global air refueling support at short notice. Air Force photo by SrA. Justine Rho.

As the only tanker wing for all of Europe and Africa, the 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall, England, is always busy. As of July, the wing’s KC-135s had conducted 1,011 missions, refueled 2,897 aircraft, and offloaded 27.6 million pounds of fuel.

Rarely is there a day, where there isn’t a “hub of activity on the ramp” at Mildenhall, Col. Chris Amrhein, commander of the Bloody 100th, told Air Force Magazine during a recent visit to the base. “Obviously, it’s sustainable. We’re able to execute that day in and day out, but it is truly a 365, 24-hour, seven days a week type of mission set. Our airfield responds to that. We stay open all the time,” he said.

The tankers typically fly seven to nine sorties a day, the vast majority of which are for operational missions, but rarely do all 15 KC-135s take off at the same time. Amrhein wanted to see what would happen if they did, so earlier this year the 100th ARW “mobilized every tanker in the wing in less than 16 hours, and after an ‘elephant walk’ to the runway, kept them flying for two hours of non-stop operations,” said Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson during her keynote address at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference on Monday.

The goal was to “understand and stress the system,” Amrhein told Air Force Magazine during a recent visit to Mildenhall. “What do we look like after 24 hours of that?” he asked. “From that, we can say, ‘Maybe we need more resources there, maybe the processes need to be exercised more because we don’t have all the muscle memory we need.’”

Just “two short months” after that exercise “the real call came,” bragged Wilson at ASC. “The United States would destroy Syria’s chemical weapons development capability, and as they say at Mildenhall: November, Kilo, Alpha, Whiskey, Tango, and Golf [Nobody Kicks Ass Without Tanker Gas].”

On April 14, in the early morning hours local time, the US, United Kingdom, and French forces fired a total of 105 weapons at Syrian chemical weapons research and storage facilities. The attack came nearly a week after the Syrian regime allegedly used chemical weapons on a suburb of the country’s capital.

The 100th Air Refueling Wing was in the first wave, said Wilson on Monday. Weather conditions were “significantly below minimums,” and the wing’s tankers “needed a follow me truck to find the runway’s center line … If they didn’t go, the mission would have to be scrubbed. They relied on their training, [and] confidence in the maintenance and equipment to push the throttles forward.”