UNDISCLOSED LOCATION - When a KC-135 Stratotanker aircrew takes off and points the aircraft toward a potentially hostile environment, they need all the information they can get to ensure they come home safe.
That responsibility falls on the shoulders of the military intelligence professionals assigned to the 351st Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, who work around the clock gathering and organizing situational data for presentation to the flyers before every mission.
For the 351st EARS, deployed from RAF Mildenhall, England, to southwest Europe in support of French operations in Mali, a team of airmen ensures the unit is informed of potential hazards.
Airman 1st Class Katie Shelton, an Intel operations apprentice with the 351st EARS, explained the responsibilities the Intel team has.
The team provides up-to-date situational analysis for the crews based on the location where their mission will occur, Shelton said. The team also provides information about possible threats aircrews could encounter.
Shelton, from Harrogate, North Yorkshire, U.K., said her duties, while similar in execution, differ from what she does at RAF Mildenhall.
“It’s interesting to see it from a different perspective,” she said. “Here, the briefings are centered on a specific mission, and we get to see the direct impact from that. We’re sending these aircrews into a higher-threat environment, whereas at home, they’re often heading out on routine or training missions.”
Whether on the ground or in the air, situational awareness is crucial in a deployed environment.
“As a pilot – especially flying the kinds of missions we’re doing here – knowing what’s on the ground below you is just as important as knowing what’s in the air around you,” said Capt. Justin Skinner, 351st EARS mission planner.
“It’s just as important for our maintainers and other ground support agencies,” Skinner said.
Intelligence professionals also counter one of the biggest detractors from mission readiness in a deployed environment – uncertainty.
“Any time you’re pulled away from the everyday routine to support a mission like this, rumors start to circulate about everything,” Skinner said. "Intel is able to separate the facts from the fiction and pass along what matters to us while we are doing the mission.”