Flight of Firsts

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Mary E. Greenwood
  • 115th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Spouses of Airmen assigned to the 115th Fighter Wing here were given the opportunity to ride along during a 128th Air Refueling Wing training mission that departed from Truax Field, Nov. 30, 2018.


Two KC-135 Stratotankers assigned to the 128th ARW, General Mitchell, Air National Guard Base took off from Truax Field around 9:30 a.m. with approximately 45 military spouses for a refueling mission with F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the 115th FW.


Lt. Col. Benjamin Gerds, director of operations, 176th Fighter Squadron came up with the idea of the spouse and began working with members from the 128th ARW to make it happen.


“We do the spouse flights to show our spouses what we do at work, why we work long hours,” Gerds said. “It is rewarding for them and us to show them the mission, up close and personal.  It is a unique experience to be able to see an F-16 aerial refuel from the boom section of a tanker aircraft.”


Gerds informed 1st Lt. Clayton Cook, F-16 pilot assigned to the 176th FS of the event and Cook began planning for the day of execution.


“The 128th ARW was already scheduled for training so this was a chance to give the crew the opportunity to shed light on what they do,” Cook said. “It also gives the spouses the opportunity to see what the members experience from the tanker side since we can’t actually take them up in the F-16s.”


Among the military spouses was first time flyer Mari Schomburg, a cosmetologist for a salon in Madison, and the wife of Master Sgt. John Schomburg, weapons lead standardization team chief assigned to the 115th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. Not only was it Mari’s first time flying on a military aircraft, it was her first time flying in any aircraft.


“Not knowing what to expect on a plane made me a little nervous,” Mari said. “But I was excited to experience this unique opportunity!”


Mari had a great time and Shomburg was excited for his wife to finally fly.


“It felt like we were on a floating bus.” Mari said. “One minute we felt light in weight, and heavy the next as we moved around. It was exciting to take photos of the F-16s by the wing of our tanker, watching them refuel, and to see the cockpit. Thank you so very much for making this experience possible.”


Another passenger in attendance that had a first on this flight was Ted Sullivan, detective for the Dodge County Sheriff’s Department. For Ted this was more than just a spouse flight, his brother Lt. Col. James Sullivan, an evaluator pilot for the 128th ARW, was one of the KC-135 pilots.


“Flying with my brother was a surreal experience” Ted said. “It’s not that often we get a glimpse of what we, as family members, do in our respective jobs.”


James piloted the second KC-135 which contained his brother Ted whom was able to sit in the cockpit during most of the flight and get a taste of what his brother does on a day-to-day basis.


“Since we both work careers in the public service industry, it was great to be able to show him a model of what we do in the deployed environment with our conventional mission in service to our country,” James said. “It’s hard to put into words the level of happiness you feel when you’re fulfilling your passion of flying with your brother by your side.”


Ted’s wife, Lt. Col. Jessica Sullivan, the deputy commander and medical administrative officer assigned to the 115th Medical Group, was grateful to be able to offer her husband the opportunity to fly with his brother.


“My husband has been a part of my life for 20 of the 27 years I have served,” Jessica said. “Being married to a military member is not always easy and I was thankful that the fighter wing could provide this opportunity as a way to thank him for his support.


Ted continues to thank his wife and spoke about his perspective of the day.


“I owe her so much for nominating me to experience such an awesome event,” Ted said. “This was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.”


Gerds explains everything was made possible through a great team effort and voiced that he would like to keep doing these in the future, but hopes to increase the opportunity to once or twice a year.