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Flying for the Air Force is a family affair

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Betty Chevalier
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Joining the U.S. Air Force involves a sacrifice of leaving home, parents and siblings without knowing when leave will allow for a reconnection. Add in multiple family members serving and the chance of hugging those loved ones can be extremely limited. For one family, a routine mission brought two siblings together thousands of miles from each of their duty stations.

Capt. Jack “Shotgun” Miller, 62nd Fighter Squadron F-35A instructor pilot, and 1st Lt. Macy Miller, 6th Air Refueling Squadron KC-10 pilot, each traveled for a temporary duty, with their missions coinciding at Tyndall Air Force Base.

The 62nd FS, out of Luke AFB, Arizona, spent approximately two weeks training out of Tyndall to complete part of the student pilot basic course syllabus. Training at Tyndall allows not only U.S. pilots, but also the joint partners within the 62nd FS for a more complex combat training environment than available at Luke due to the variety of airframes and airspace available in the Tyndall area.

When it was time to head back to home station, they requested support of tanker aircraft to help get the 16 F-35A Lightning II aircraft, along with support equipment and personnel home. The 6th ARS, out of Travis AFB, California, took on the mission.

“We got tasked to assist the 62nd [FS] moving all of their maintenance personnel, some of their pilots and their cargo,” Macy explained. “The KC-10 is able to take cargo passengers and drag the fighters from Tyndall to Luke so they don't have to stop and get fuel, theoretically.”

“Dragging” jets means fighters and tankers fly across the country in unison, working together to refuel the fighters when necessary. This can save the units time, money and resources while also providing valuable training.

“As important as it is getting dragged across the United States by a tanker, especially from Tyndall back to Luke, it also enables us to do student training on the back end of missions,” Jack said. “The tanker was able to drag the [F-35s] across the United States and dropped them off at Luke to meet a 15-minute airspace window that they had in order to accomplish pilot flying training.”

Originally, eight F-35s were to leave on Thursday, dragged home by Macy’s team, including Jack. The remaining F-35s would be dragged home by another Travis tanker, flown by Macy’s husband. On Thursday morning, a maintenance issue was identified with the refueling probe on the KC-10. In a display of teamwork and flexibility, both units worked out an alternative to make the day’s mission successful: the F-35s would stop for refueling in Texas and the KC-10 would ferry the personnel and cargo directly to Luke.

“We all showed up to work with a mission that day and that was to get eight jets, however many passengers and all the cargo back to Luke AFB,” Jack said. “Whatever factors came up, we were going to continue to press with the mission. We all sat around the table and went through factors that we thought were limiting, important and concerning. We weighed our options, made a decision and went with it.”

While the initial plan didn’t work out, they all arrived back to Luke at approximately the same time that evening, according to Jack.

Seeing each other hasn’t been as sporadic for the Miller siblings as Macy and the KC-10 periodically stop at Luke for missions. However, this meeting was the first time the Miller siblings were able to work a mission together. Whether it’s a quick stop at each other’s base or flying a mission together, they are capitalizing on all the chances the U.S. Air Force presents to them and still keeping the mission going.

“I think everyone's really understanding that seeing family is a little harder for us in the military as a whole,” said Macy. “When the opportunity presents itself, I definitely jump on it. I've gotten to see my nieces a couple times, Jack and my sister-in-law. Even if it's like for 30 minutes and a quick hug, it's super cool and totally worth it.”