Hawaii's Air National Guard is always training, including for this ballet at 25,000 feet

(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM (HawaiiNewsNow) - Tensions with North Korea and Pacific Ocean territorial disputes have increased the urgency for Hawaii's military to be ready — at a moment's notice.

That includes Hawaii's Air National Guard, whose members (70 percent of whom are part-timers) participate in near constant training.

On a recent mission in the skies over Hawaii, a KC-135 tanker leaves the ground before dawn to refuel three F-22 Raptors.

Before takeoff, every detail of the mission was reviewed by five-person flight crew.

Lt. Col. Charles Anthony, director of public affairs for the Hawaii Air National Guard, said fighter pilots participate in at least eight missions a month.

"Otherwise, they're going to lose that combat edge," he said. "Same thing with tanker pilots."

After the KC-135 takes off, it takes about 45 minutes to arrive at the rendezvous, somewhere north of Mokuleia.

Anthony says the area is one of the largest tactical military air space training areas because there are few, if any, civilian aircraft traversing the area.

A few minutes after arriving, Master Sgt. Noa Morse —one of two fuel boom operators on the flight — spots a Raptor.

"See one of them, real small over there," he says. "Yeah, he's trying to come in nice and slow."

To re-fuel, the Raptors must one-by-one attach to a boom connected to the tanker.

A mere 25 feet separates the jet fighter from the KC-135 when they're connected.

It's like a ballet of patience and precision — at 25,000 feet.

And once the fuel starts flowing, about 5,000 pounds of jet fuel is pumped into each Raptor.

The Hawaii Air Guard's 154th Air Wing is the largest in country.

Former flight attendant Pua Jumawid, 38, of Waikele, has been in the guard for 12 years. An avid surfer, she's also a boom operator and just returned from a three-month deployment to the Middle East.

"This is probably the coolest job. Ever. And very important mission to our state as well as our country," Jumawid says.

Most of the 2,500 members of the Hawaii Air National Guard are from Hawaii, including co-pilot Jordan Ah Loy, a graduate of Kamehameha Schools.

Ah Loy just returned from a mission in Germany.

"You get a real strong sense of family. Strong sense of ohana. A lot of people in the guard here are local boys, local girls,' says Ah Loy. "So we try to infuse the culture into everything we're doing."

The mission to refuel the three Raptors took about three hours from start to finish.

For the five people on board the tanker, it was just another day on the job.

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