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186th Air Refueling Wing honored to host local Vietnam Veteran

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With Veterans Day being just a few days away, the 186th Air Refueling Wing was honored to host and provide a tour to a Vietnam Veteran, Nov. 6, 2021.

82 year old James William Roberts from Brandon, Mississippi, is a former U.S. Air Force boom operator who was stationed at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, during his time in service.  Mr. Roberts served from October 1958 to September 1966, with four years on the KC-97 aircraft and four more years on the KC-135 aircraft.

His time in service included a tour in Vietnam from December of 1965 to April of 1966, during the height of the war.  He shared many stories about his time as a boom operator, refueling B-52 bombers and other aircraft.

“I had some good times, and some scary times too,” said Roberts. “I really enjoyed today, and appreciate it more than you’ll ever know.”

Both with the 153rd Air Refueling Squadron, Lt. Col. Brad Anthony, a pilot with more than 25 years in the Mississippi Air National Guard (MSANG), and Tech. Sgt. Joshua Schultz, a boom operator with more than 14 years in, led the tour of a KC-135R Stratotanker aircraft. 

Anthony said it means a lot to him and everyone here at Key Field to have Mr. Roberts visit the base.  “For Mr. Roberts to get to come here and relive this,” Anthony said. “It really made our day.”

Roberts was able to lay in the back of the aircraft in the boom pod, which was his exact job while serving in Vietnam.

Schultz said the best thing about today was getting to meet someone who pioneered the way for the boom operator career field. 

“You don’t get to hear too many stories from Vietnam,” Schultz said. “Getting to listen to Mr. Roberts and hear about all the aircraft he refueled was just great. I’m glad he got to come out and see where his job is in the future.”

Mr. Roberts told the group of crew chiefs and other Airmen that he certainly enjoyed seeing everything that’s been done to upgrade the aircraft.

“You folks have taken a huge load off the active duty Air Force and probably do more war time than a lot of others (branches),” Roberts shared.

Keith and Susan Roberts, the son and daughter-in-law of James Roberts, who also attended the visit, said that Mr. Roberts enjoyed traveling around to local patriotic events and air shows.  They also said that he is always willing to help out those in need.

Mr. Roberts offered a few words of wisdom to anyone interested in joining the military, “There are great training programs, and you can get an education. If you don’t know what you want to do in life, it’s a good place to find out.

He also jokingly added, “Just read the job description before you sign up. I thought boom operator meant heavy construction, and here I am on an airplane!”

Boom operators are responsible for pumping thousands of gallons of fuel to other aircraft midflight.  They are highly trained experts who provide a crucial task of helping to keep other aircraft in the air, so they can complete their war fight mission.

If you or someone you know is interested in joining the MSANG or how to become a boom operator, reach out to our recruiters at 601-484-9213 or 601-484-9828. You can also find us at https://www.186arw.ang.af.mil/

The 186th Air Refueling Wing provides over 1,100 personnel and eight KC-135R aircraft to Air Mobility Command for worldwide operations. The Wing also supports domestic counter-drug and emergency response missions as well as overseas combatant commander requirements with an RC-26B aircraft.  Additional units at Key Field include the 238th Air Support Operations Squadron, the 248th Air Traffic Control Squadron, and the 186th Air Operations Group.