AMBERLEY, Australia -- There are only a handful of Airmen among more than five-thousand Australians at Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Amberley calling Australia home.
Master Sgt. Jonathan Haas, an in-flight air refuel boom operator with the United States Air Force, is currently in the Military Personnel Exchange Program (MPEP) and has been stationed at RAAF Amberley for over a year. Haas is assigned to the No. 33 Squadron, home of the KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport, as an instructor to the Australian equivalent of U.S. boom operators, officially known in the RAAF as Air Refueling Operators (AR).
Haas says not many Airmen know about the exchange program that is open to both active duty enlisted and officer career fields. Haas submitted an application for the MPEP job when his assignment to Scott Air Force Base was cancelled. Haas looked at job availabilities online and saw an opening for an assignment to Australia, under the MPEP. At the time, Haas was assigned to the 22nd Air Refueling Wing at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas where he was a flight superintendent and boom operator on KC-135 Stratotankers.
“It was an awesome opportunity for me to help on the world’s newest tanker.” Haas said. “It has given me the chance to help the RAAF further develop and progress the capabilities of this platform. I also thought it would be a great chance for my family to live in Australia for three years and experience a different culture.”
Enhanced Air Cooperation with U.S. Air Force
Queensland, where RAAF Amberley is located, has Australia’s third largest city, Brisbane, bustling with 2.3 million residents. Like most American military bases, RAAF Base Amberley is far from the city of Brisbane and is, instead, nestled among rolling cattle pastures just 40 kilometers southwest of the Scenic Rim.
This quaint suburb, however, should not be mistaken for a quiet town. RAAF Amberley is the Australian Air Force’s largest base employing more than 5,000 people and is home of the F/A-18 Hornet.
During the U.S. visit, from Nov. 27 to Dec. 4, Haas assisted with the first operational in-flight air to air refuel of its kind between the two nations, and did so with fellow Americans during the U.S.- Australia Force Posture Initiatives and the Enhanced Air Cooperation program.
Coupled with having unique capabilities for both sides, the refuel is critical to the training and operations objectives generally outlined in bilateral training missions such as the Enhanced Air Cooperation.
RAAF’s KC-30A MRTT and the U.S. Air Force (USAF) B1-B Lancer, from the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, have never conducted an operational refuel outside of the USAF’s 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
Haas provided instruction to RAAF ARO, Warrant Officer Steven Foster, who had never worked with a B-1B. Safety and caution during the mission was important, due to the receptacle on the Lancer being only 18 inches from the windshield, according to Haas.
“This leaves very little room for error and the challenges associated with the receptacle increase the difficulty of this platform’s air to air refuel.” Haas said. “The refueling went smooth. It is one of the more difficult boom receivers to refuel from the KC-30A as it required a precision contact and no use of the slipaway at all. It was very similar to refueling F-111’s.”
Throughout the exercise, Airmen from both countries had the opportunity to train, communicate and work side by side but the air refuel was especially significant.
“This is a huge milestone for the RAAF to know that they can play a vital role in this exercise not just refueling the fighters but now also extending the time on station of a bomber too.” Haas said. “The main purpose was for both the B1 crews and KC-30 crews, to show and flex the capability.”
As an American Airman assigned to the Australians, his exchange underscores the United States’ commitment to our agreements as allies and as partners. The knowledge often gained during bilateral training and operations are invaluable.
“The B-1 crews were able to gain a wealth of knowledge to take back to other B-1 units for future operations or exercises. It was also important for the RAAF to gain the confidence in the ability of their crews, and their ARO’s to gain the confidence in their abilities.” Haas said. “The Australians were in awe. It was surreal refueling for the RAAF ARO and he enjoyed every minute of it.”
Military Personnel Exchange Program
The opportunity to be assigned with the RAAF and to travel around Australia is just one of the perks that come with the exchange program. “It truly is a great experience to not only live in a foreign country but also work in and with a foreign military on their equipment and help them to progress and develop for any future mission or task.” Haas said.
Haas also say there are many positives to living in Australia but is sure to note the challenges that typically come with living overseas. Without support generally found at other allied military bases like Royal Air Force Mildenhall in the United Kingdom or Rammstein Air Base in Germany, there are a few unusual situations his family has had to overcome.
“The challenges we do face as a family, forces us to work as a team, to work together. My kids love it here, we have our dog who has been a piece of home for them. And my wife has had to find her support system with Australians.” Haas says. “Overall, the challenges are worth it being in Australia is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Haas attributed success to the fact that there are many similarities within the RAAF community that is much like the U.S. Air Force.
“What is similar is, there is that willingness to get the mission accomplished. Safety is always a priority and they’ll do what it takes to get the job done.” Haas said. “It truly is a great experience to not only live in a foreign country but also work in and with a foreign military on their equipment and help them to progress and develop for any future mission or task.
As part of the Enhanced Air Cooperation, the RAAF will participate in Exercise COPE NORTH 2018. Exercise COPE NORTH 2018 is an annual Pacific Air Forces tri-lateral Field Training Exercise with participants from the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), and Royal Australian Air Force conducted primarily at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.
Participating air forces will conduct a tri-lateral Field Training Exercise to improve combat readiness, develop synergistic humanitarian assistance and/or disaster relief operations, and increase interoperability between the U.S., RAAF, and JASDF, concentrating on coordination of Air Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures.