Feature   Know Your Military

Face of Defense: Master of the In-Flight Refuel

Nov. 2, 2020 | BY Katie Lange , DOD News

Refueling airplanes in midair isn't what Tennessee Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Briana Lindquist envisioned her full-time job would be when she was growing up outside of Knoxville, Tennessee. But a random trip to the guard's 134th Air Refueling Wing was all it took for her to be sold on the idea. 

An airman  wearing a headset looks out the window of an aircraft.
Eye on the Target
Tennessee Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Briana Lindquist, a boom operator, looks out the window of an aircraft. Members of the 134th Air Refueling Wing traveled to Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla., to conduct a media flight featuring the in-air refueling capabilities of the KC-135R Stratotanker and how it aids in security protocols prepared for Super Bowl 54.
Photo By: Air Force Tech Sgt. Teri Eicher, Tennessee Air National Guard
VIRIN: 200128-Z-GX596-032

Tennessee Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Briana Lindquist
Job Title: Boom Operator
Hometown: Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Stationed: McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base
Unit: 134th Air Refueling Wing

Lindquist, 28, is an in-flight fuel specialist – better known as a boom operator – which means she's in charge of refueling other aircraft while her KC-135 Stratotanker is in flight. It's a serious job that involves a lot of outside factors, and it's one she wouldn't change for the world. 

So, what's it like to do this unique job, and how did she get into it? Lindquist answered some of those questions when she recently had a little free time. 

Three people stand in front of a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft.
Stratotanker Pose
Tennessee Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Briana Lindquist poses with her squadron commander, Lt. Col. Hiram Williamson, and co-pilot Lt. Alex Matacia while on deployment.
Photo By: Courtesy of Briana Lindquist
VIRIN: 201026-O-ZZ999-087

Why did you join the Air National Guard?

My older sister was my legal guardian when I was in high school, and she was always an inspiration to me. She was also a part of the 134th Air Refueling Wing. One day during my senior year of high school, she drove me out to the base and introduced me to the wing. The rest was history! 

You joined at age 17. How was that possible? 

With parental or guardian approval. So, my sister — being my legal guardian — was able to authorize my enlistment. I signed in January of 2010, graduated high school in May, and then left for basic training that fall. During the time between enlisting and leaving for training, we have a program that allows us to attend drill in a student status where we will study rank structure, Air Force regulations and even do physical fitness to prepare us for basic training. It's a great opportunity for younger recruits to get familiar with military life before they jump into basic training, and another great advantage of being in the Guard.

A tanker aircraft refuels a jet midair as three other jets fly nearby.
Exercise WestPac Rumrunner III
An Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker from the 909th Air Refueling Squadron refuels Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 35th Fighter Wing, Misawa Air Base, Japan, and an Air Force F-15C Eagle from the 67th Fighter Squadron while participate in Exercise Westpac Rumrunner out of Kadena Air Base, Japan, Oct. 16, 2020.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Daniel E. Fernandez
VIRIN: 201016-F-IB792-1946

What's the course of your career been?

I joined as a KC-135 Stratotanker crew chief, who are in charge of the day-to-day maintenance of the aircraft. I did that for about six years, and it was a great career that allowed me to learn the aircraft inside and out. When the opportunity came up to apply for a boom operator position, I knew it was the next step in my career. I've been a boom operator ever since.

Explain what exactly it is that a boom operator does. 

My main responsibility is the refueling of other aircraft in flight! Working from the rear of the tanker, I guide other planes into position to safely transfer fuel from our plane to theirs. It requires a lot of coordination between our pilots and the aircraft we are refueling, and I manually operate the boom into position to forge the connection that allows the fuel to offload.

A long pole carrying fuel from a tanker aircraft attaches to a fighter jet while flying in clouds.
Flight Refuel
Air Force airmen assigned to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron conduct aerial refueling missions aboard a KC-135 Stratotanker with a Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet from the “Fighting Redcocks” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 22 during a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, Oct. 2, 2020.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Justin Parsons
VIRIN: 201002-F-GZ700-0250

That seems like a lot of pressure. Do you get used to it? 

I'm confident in my ability to do my job, but I still have moments where I'm a bit nervous. Every refueling is different. There are so many factors that can increase the difficulty, like unfamiliar aircraft, poor weather or new pilots who are learning how to refuel. It's my job to make every connection a success — aircraft need fuel to fly — but that can sometimes be stressful. Even so, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Do you have any other duties during missions? 

Absolutely! In addition to refueling duties, I compute weight and balance for the aircraft, oversee cargo loading and unloading procedures, manage passenger handling and do a host of other smaller tasks.

Most Guard members are part time, but this is your day job, too, right? 

We perform enough missions that flying with the wing is currently my full-time job. 

[Those types of opportunities] are entirely dependent on the career field. There are a lot of ways people can find full-time employment with the Guard, and it creates a ton of great opportunities for members who love what they do. Personally, I feel very fortunate to have full-time employment that I love as a part-time member. It gives me the flexibility to work when and how I want most of the time.

A man speaks to an airman wearing a headset as they stand surrounded by flight equipment.
Boom Laugh
Tennessee Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Briana Lindquist, a boom operator, shares a laugh with NBC Nightly News' Kerry Sanders. Members of the 134th Air Refueling Wing traveled to Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla., to conduct a media flight featuring the in-air refueling capabilities of the KC-135R Stratotanker and how it aids in security protocols prepared for the Super Bowl 54.
Photo By: Air Force Tech Sgt. Teri Eicher, Tennessee Air National Guard
VIRIN: 200128-Z-GX596-028

Where has your career taken you?

Physically, it's taken me all over the world! Almost 11 years ago, 17-year-old me would never have imagined that signing on the dotted line would bring me to where I am today. It's incredible!

You've gotten to do some cool things in this job. You were involved in security protocol for the recent Super Bowl 54, right? 

Yes, the Super Bowl was an amazing opportunity! I have also been able to travel to some pretty incredible locations and work with dedicated men and women. I've deployed and flown with multiple NATO countries, flown in joint exercises stateside and abroad, and assisted with recovery efforts from natural disasters here in the U.S.

One was actually here in East Tennessee. A few years ago, there was a fire that devastated the city of Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The overall loss overwhelmed the community, and I was able to help with the aftermath by providing meals, clothing, shelter and other various things to the community.

A man, woman and young girl huddle together with a dog near a body of water.
Group Shot
Tennessee Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Briana Lindquist and her family enjoy an outdoor adventure with their retired, military working dog.
Photo By: Courtesy of Briana Lindquist
VIRIN: 201026-O-ZZ999-086

Do you plan to stay involved in the Guard for a long time?

I hope to! The Guard has been my life and family, of sorts, for over a decade. There have been ups and downs like any career, but overall I love what I do and the people I get to work with.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I have a family and a retired military working dog that all keep me pretty busy! We enjoy traveling, and we also love to spend time outdoors when we're home in East Tennessee. It's such a beautiful area with so many opportunities for recreation, like the Great Smoky Mountains. This time of year brings two things that are important to my family — gorgeous mountain hikes and Tennessee football! Go Vols!