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Face of Defense: Reservist Reaches Air Refueling Milestone

By Air Force Capt. Zachary Anderson
931st Air Refueling Group

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan., May 28, 2014 – A reservist assigned here has reached a career milestone that was more than 24 years in the making.

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Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Ray Lewis, a refueling boom operator assigned to the Air Force Reserve’s 18th Air Refueling Squadron, 931st Air Refueling Group, McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., has been serving in the Air Force for more than 24 years and recently passed 6,500 total flight hours and 1,500 missions flown. Courtesy photo by Jonathan Pece

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Ray Lewis, a refueling boom operator assigned to the Air Force Reserve’s 18th Air Refueling Squadron, 931st Air Refueling Group, recently passed 6,500 flying hours while at the same time tallying his 1,500th mission.

Lewis said he sees the totals as less of a milestone and more of a reflection on the fact that he has been able to continue to fly regularly for his entire career.

"I think I'm just lucky," he said. "I'm lucky in the sense that I've been able to stay in the Air Force for as long as I have and I've been able to continue to fly, serving as a reservist. I've been in the Air Force Reserve for more than 16 years of my career, and I get to fly roughly four hours a week, so it's really just been an accumulation of hours over the years."

As a boom operator, Lewis' primary job is to control the KC-135 Stratotanker's refueling boom during air refueling operations. He communicates and coordinates with the receiving aircraft's pilot to ensure the safe transfer of thousands of pounds of jet fuel, all while the two aircraft are less than 30 feet apart, traveling at 500 miles per hour, 30,000 feet above the ground.

Though he has spent the equivalent of nine months in flight doing the job, Lewis said, it never gets old.

"I still get excited each time I'm scheduled to go fly," he said. "It's been that way ever since the first time I did an air refueling mission, back when I was just a 19-year-old kid. I've always loved the job, always loved being in the airplane. Honestly, I like being in the airplane more than I like being at home. That may sound weird, but I'm just very, very comfortable in the airplane, and I love doing the job."

That excitement of doing the job has been a hallmark of Lewis's career, dating back to that very first mission.

"I was excited and terrified at the same time," he said with a laugh. "It was at now-closed Castle Air Force Base in California, and I was going up to refuel a C-130. I remember my instructor was irritated, because all Castle did at the time was B-52s, and now on my first sortie I was scheduled for a propeller airplane. He was aggravated about that, but I kept thinking it was no big deal, because I didn't know any better. And it's really not a big deal, but for the very first time it was unusual. But everything went totally fine, and I was able to log my first hours."

In almost a quarter century of flying, Lewis has refueled virtually every aircraft in the Air Force fleet and served on multiple combat missions, his first refueling F-16s during Operation Desert Shield in 1990 and Operation Desert Storm in 1991. He also has conducted and taught on hundreds of training missions, passing his own knowledge and experience on to the next generation of boom operators. Now in the twilight of his career, he said, he looks at each mission a little differently.

"The job is the same, and I treat each sortie the same, but at this point, the writing is on the wall -- I'm not going to get to do this forever," he said. "So I appreciate it just a little more than I did back when I was that 19-year-old kid. Every flight is a blessing, and I just feel lucky to be able to continue to do this."


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