Former boom operator instructor returns to Altus as pilot

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kari Degraffenreed
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

U.S. Air Force 2nd. Lt. Bryan Lee, 54th Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker student pilot, isn’t a stranger to the local area. In fact, Lee has spent a good portion of his career at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

Despite being a student pilot, Lee is not new to the skies. He first joined the Air Force in 2009 as a KC-135 boom operator and his desire to stay in the air has remained ever since.

Lee’s first duty station as a boom operator was McConnell AFB, Kansas, where he first became familiar with airplanes while doing his job as a refueler.

At McConnell, Lee met Lt. Col. Sarah Bulinski, who is now the 54th ARS commander at AAFB.

“We were both in the 349th Air Refueling Squadron,” said Bulinski. “At the time, he was a boom operator and I was a pilot, so we flew together pretty often and we even deployed at the same time.”

Even then, Lee knew he wanted to be a pilot. After six years of active duty service, Lee applied for pilot training school in 2016 through an Air Force Reserves unit in Tampa, Florida . After being accepted, Lee waited three years for his active-duty contract to end. During this time, Lee filled a prestigious instructor boom operator position at Altus AFB.

Bulinski continued to follow Lee’s career through social media and cheered him on when he became an instructor in 2017.

“As far as boom operators go, that’s the pinnacle of their career,” said Bulinski. “He did the whole gamut of what it means to be a boom.”

When his time as an instructor ended in September of 2018, Lee moved on from active duty and transitioned to his reserve pilot role.

His flying didn’t end there. In fact, he spent even more time learning his craft as a pilot.

“I continued flight instructing until I landed a corporate job,” said Lee. “I became a corporate pilot, flying jets while I was still enlisted in the reserves.”

In 2020, Lee finally got the opportunity he’d been waiting for to go to Laughlin AFB, Texas, to begin undergraduate pilot training. One year later, Lee headed back to Altus, but this time, as a pilot student.

“I wear a really weird hat now,” said Lee. “I’m either learning or teaching. During the week, I’m a student on the KC-135. On the weekends, I’m teaching people how to fly.”

Lee’s career progression from enlisted instructor to pilot is also a source of pride for the 54th ARS.

“I am proud of him and inspired by his perseverance, and hard work,” said Bulinksi. “His previous experience and perspective of being an instructor boom operator will prove invaluable to his unit. As the Air Force’s only KC-135 FTU, the 54 ARS had the privilege to play a role in each stage of Lee’s journey from boom operator to pilot.”