FEBRUARY 25, 2021 – Maj. Charles Kilchrist knew there was no room for error. He and his weary 345th Bomb Squadron crew, along with two other B-1B Lancers from the 7th Bomb Wing, had been airborne for more than 30 hours, on a mission from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota to the Pacific theater, conducting integration with the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force last month.
With fuel low, the pilot was trying to make it to the unit’s home station at Dyess AFB, Texas. When the jet finally touched down safely, it was the last hurdle in a difficult mission that strengthened the Total Force Integration bond between the Reserve Citizen Airmen and their active-duty counterparts in the 9th Bomb Squadron.
“The differences in perspective from the reserve to active duty are complementary,” said Kilchrist. “The partnership brings diversity, flexibility, and innovation possibilities that are critical to mission success.”
Those qualities were necessary for a mission that encountered difficulties before it even took off. The mission was scheduled to leave from Dyess AFB, but a freak snowstorm in Abilene forced them to move their entire operation to launch from Ellsworth AFB.
Master Sgt. Rachel Parish, the 489th Maintenance Squadron lead maintainer for the mission, was forced to deploy her team of 19 maintainers and all their equipment in less than 24 hours to accomplish the mission. All three jets took off on time despite the move.
“We could do it again tomorrow and that’s the thing,” said Kilchrist. “That’s why we train this way so that when it does happen, it’s no big deal; it’s just a Thursday.”
The jets were in the air on time, but the challenges were far from over. During the second of five aerial refuelings, a loose connection caused a fuel spray, degrading the pilot’s visibility.
“It was probably the worst fuel spray I have seen in my six years in the B-1,” said Kilchrist.
Nevertheless, the aircrew persevered to integrate with the JASDF, followed by more training with elements of the U.S. Navy in the area. Kilchrist said integrating with partner nations and implementing joint force tactics in one mission sends reassurance to allies of the U.S. commitment to peace and stability in the Pacific region.
“It showed the U.S. Air Force is always there to provide agile combat support anytime and anywhere around the globe,” he said. “It also served to deter adversaries.”
1st Lt. Billy Heyser, the other 345th BS pilot on the mission, said the setbacks and challenges of the mission provided more incentive to complete it.
“It’s important for our adversaries to know that we may not necessarily be forward deployed somewhere,” he said. “But we can take off from anywhere in the continental U.S. and show up on your doorstep, whenever we want to, no matter what we have to overcome to get there.”
Story by Staff Sgt. Callie Ware
307th Bomb Wing