TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Florida —
Joining the US Air Force involves the sacrifice of leaving home, parents, and siblings without knowing when the leave will allow for a reconnection. Add to that multiple serving family members and the chances of embracing 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, an instructor pilot for the 62nd F-35A Fighter Squadron, and 1st Lt. Macy Miller, a pilot for the 6th KC-10 Air Refueling Squadron, each traveled on temporary duty, their missions coinciding at Tyndall Air Force Base.
The 62nd FS, out of Luke AFB, Arizona, spent approximately two weeks training at Tyndall to complete part of the Basic Student Pilot Course curriculum. Training at Tyndall allows not only American pilots, but also joint partners within the 62nd FS to have a more complex combat training environment than that available at Luke due to the variety of airframes and the airspace available in the Tyndall area.
When it was time to return to home station, they requested tanker support to help bring the 16 F-35A Lightning II aircraft, along with support equipment and personnel home. The 6th ARS, from Travis AFB, Calif., took over the mission.
“We have been tasked with assisting the 62nd [FS] moving all of their maintenance personnel, some of their pilots and cargo,” Macy explained. “The KC-10 is capable of carrying cargo passengers and dragging fighters from Tyndall to Luke so they don’t have to stop to refuel, in theory.”
“Trailing” jets mean that fighters and tankers fly across the country in unison, working together to refuel fighters when needed. This can save units time, money and resources while providing valuable training.
“As important as it’s being dragged across the United States by an oil tanker, especially from Tyndall to Luke, it also allows us to train students at the 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 window of airspace they had to accomplish pilot flight training.
Originally, eight F-35s were scheduled to depart on Thursday, flown home by Macy’s team, including Jack. The remaining F-35s would be flown home by another Travis tanker, piloted by Macy’s husband. Thursday morning, a maintenance issue was identified with the KC-10 refueling probe. In a show of teamwork and flexibility, the two units worked out an alternative way to successfully complete the day’s mission: the F-35s would stop to refuel in Texas and the KC-10 would ferry personnel and cargo. directly to Luke.
“We all showed up to work with a mission that day and it was to get eight jets back, but many passengers and all the cargo to Luke AFB,” Jack said. “Whatever factors arose, we would continue to pressure 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 for it.
Although the original plan didn’t work out, they all returned to Luke around the same time that night, according to Jack.
Seeing each other hasn’t been as sporadic for the Miller siblings as Macy and the KC-10 periodically stop by Luke for missions. However, this meeting was the first time the Miller siblings could work together on a mission. Whether it’s a quick stop at each other’s base or a mission together, they capitalize on every chance the US Air Force presents to them and keep the mission going.
“I think everyone really understands that seeing family is a little harder for us in the military as a whole,” Macy said. “When the opportunity arises, I jump on it. I’ve been able to see my nieces a few times, Jack and my sister-in-law. Even if it’s like 30 minutes and a quick hug, it’s super cool and that really worth it.