40th Boom Symposium welcomes new era of air refueling

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Cody Dowell
  • Altus Air Force Base Public Affairs

U.S. Air Force aircraft can travel large distances but even they can only hold so much fuel. That is where in-flight refueling technicians or more commonly known as, boom operators, come into play.

Boom operators from across the world met at Altus for the 40th Annual Boom Symposium April 26 – 27, 2019. The event included professional development briefings, a retreat ceremony at the Boom Operator Memorial and a heritage banquet dinner.

For the past 40 years, boom operators have met at the schoolhouse to celebrate former, current and future boom operators.

“Modern aerial refueling has been around for more than 70 years and across four different airframes,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Travis Burnett, an in-flight refueling technician assigned to the 97th Training Squadron. “The boom symposium is a yearly event to bring together boom operators from all generations and embrace our heritage.”

The symposium is a way of keeping camaraderie alive within in the career field.

“I’ve always enjoyed my experience with all of the symposiums I’ve been to,” said James Ward, a former U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. and boom operator. “We need to get the word out a little more when we get together since it’s such a great time. It is always nice to see people you haven’t seen [in a while], sometimes in 10 years.”

This year’s symposium started out with a professional development briefing, bringing together past, present and future boom operators to tell Airmen about what is going on at the base.

“Former and current boom operators were briefed about the current operations of the schoolhouse,” said Burnett. “After that, leadership briefed aerial refueling permanent party members about what is happening on the operational side of aerial refueling. This helps keep the instructors informed about the tempo that the students will face once they leave here.”

At Wings of Freedom Park, personnel gathered to the Boom Operator Memorial which was dedicated to 118 operators who gave the ultimate sacrifice while performing their duties.

“During the Boom Operator Memorial, former, leadership, instructor and student boom operator students read off the names of the members on the memorial,” said Burnett. “The president of the Inflight Refueling Association named all the members who have lost their lives last year.”

The next day started with the families of active-duty and former boom operators visiting a static display and simulator of the KC-135 Stratotanker. Being onboard the KC-135 allowed family members to see what a boom operator accomplishes. It also allows former booms to relive their career. All of these events built up to the main event that night, the Boom Symposium banquet.

“At its core, the Boom Symposium banquet is really what it’s all about,” said Burnett. “That’s where we go over our heritage, have our guest speaker. Then when the night is almost over, we award the best air refueling squadron for that year, the ‘Senior Master Sgt. Albert L. Evans Memorial Trophy.’”

Jodi Hartel, the Deputy Chief for Innovative Learning for the Defense Intelligence Agency was the guest speaker for the banquet and was one of the first women in the testing program for boom operators in the U.S. Air Force. After she spoke it was announced that the 349th Air Refueling Squadron (McConnell Air Force Base, Kan.) won the trophy this year for everything they had accomplished.

Celebrating another year for career enlisted aviators, the boom operators of the past, present and future keep the heritage and tradition of aerial refueling alive across the Air Force.