KC-135 integral to F-16 training in Greece

KC-135 integral to F-16 training in GreeceSOUDA BAY, Greece (AFNS)

The first time the Air Force attempted to refuel an aircraft in flight, aircrews successfully stayed aloft for 151 hours. That was over 85 years ago, and the Air Force today has made quite a few innovations since then.

A KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 63rd Air Refueling Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, is providing air refueling support to the F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the 480th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron over the skies of Souda Bay, Greece, during a flying training deployment slated for Jan. 22 to Feb. 15.

“The tanker plays a huge role in what we do to meet any sortie tasking that we could have,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Murphy, the 480th EFS commander. “We can simulate the same length of sorties here that we could have if we were in combat.”

The KC-135 crew kept the mission going and allowed pilots the opportunity to practice air-to-air refueling maneuvers.

“This is a training mission that we are doing here supporting their (flying training deployment),” said Capt. Shannon Callon, a KC-135 Stratotanker pilot assigned to the 63rd ARS. “We provide a stable platform of fuel to all of the American receivers.”

The Stratotanker can deliver 1,000 gallons of fuel per minute, carry up to 200,000 pounds of fuel, 83,000 pounds of cargo and provide air refueling services to all branches of service, NATO and allied partners.

“As the boom operator, I’m the in-flight refueler in the back of the jet being the one who’s actually controlling the boom and passing the fuel to the receivers,” said Staff Sgt. Brittany Bahnet, a KC-135 Stratotanker boom operator assigned to the 63rd ARS. “Our job also includes cargo, passengers and backing up pilots when we’re in the cockpit.

“I love it,” Bahnet continued. “It’s very exciting, it’s one of those jobs that not a lot of people could ever say they do or experience; definitely better than being behind a desk.”

The KC-135 has flown with the U.S. and Hellenic air forces each day and provided air refueling over the Greek ranges on the northwest bay of Crete, White Mountain range and over the Mediterranean Sea.

“They have been there to support us the whole time, it’s great,” Murphy said. “Their tanker crews have been awesome from the boomers to the pilots. Overall, this is really good training for everyone.”

The flying training deployments are made possible through the efforts of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, the command which governs all U.S. air assets in Europe with the duty to train, equip and deploy combat-ready Airmen. Their posture is to continuously hone skills during peacetime, address any security threats, and ensure regional peace and stability.

Enlisted commissioning program ‘intent to apply’ due Feb. 12

Enlisted commissioning program 'intent to apply' due Feb. 12JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas (AFNS)

Eligible active-duty enlisted Airmen interested in receiving a nursing commission through the Direct Enlisted Commissioning Program have until Feb. 12 to submit an ‘intent to apply’ to the Air Force Personnel Center.

The DEC Program offers active-duty enlisted personnel who have a bachelor’s degree from a nationally accredited nursing program and have passed the National Council of State Boards of Nursing licensure examination the opportunity to obtain commission into the Air Force Nurse Corps.

The program is open to senior airmen and above who have less than 12 years of service and meet academic and administrative criteria. In addition, applicants must be U.S. citizens, have a current security clearance and be worldwide qualified.

The selection board will convene in April, but there are a variety of requirements that must be met prior to that, specifically:

Feb. 12

-Email of intent to apply

-Gain release from career field functional manager

March 4

-Submit chief nurse interview

March 15

-Submit three references

March 25

-Submit completed application (applications must be coordinated through the chain of command)

For complete eligibility criteria and application instructions, go to myPers and enter “2016 Direct Enlisted Commissioning Program” in the search window.

For more information about Air Force personnel programs go to the myPers website. Individuals who do not have a myPers account can request one by following the instructions on the Air Force Retirees Services website.

From World War II to Afghanistan: USO marks 75th anniversary

From World War II to Afghanistan: USO marks 75th anniversaryWASHINGTON (AFNS)

Talk about the United Service Organizations and people think it is some holding company, but mention USO, and all Americans know it’s a way for them to connect with service members.

Retired Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the chairman of the USO Board of Governors and former Army chief of staff, estimated that the USO has served more than 35 million Americans over its history.

The USO marked its 75th anniversary Feb. 4 at a gala in Washington, D.C. Medal of Honor recipients, USO volunteers, active-duty personnel, veterans, members of Congress, and stars of stage, screen and music gathered to mark a milestone for an organization founded as the United States geared up for World War II.

Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, called the group a family that stretches around the world. J.D. Crouch, the organization’s chief executive officer, thanked the celebrities for joining in the celebration and for entertaining American service members around the world as ambassadors from the American people.

“You light up our service members’ lives, and you remind Americans of the debt of gratitude that we all owe to those who serve,” he said.

Founded at a dark time in history

The USO came into being during a dark time in history. The U.S. was not at war, but the rest of the world seemed to be. Hitler’s troops stood at the English Channel and launched nightly air raids against London. In the Pacific, Japan eyed the colonial possessions of France and the Netherlands – two of the countries Germany had conquered in its 1940 blitzkrieg.

In the face of such threats, the U.S. instituted a military draft, calling hundreds of thousands of men to the colors, and Americans wanted to reach out to their young men. President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked charitable organizations to band together to provide morale and recreation services to service members.

Six civilian organizations answered the call: the Salvation Army, the Young Men’s Christian Association, the Young Women’s Christian Association, the National Catholic Community Service, the National Travelers Air Association and the National Jewish Welfare Board. These organizations chartered the USO in New York on Feb. 4, 1941.

Japan attacked the U.S. on Dec. 7, 1941, and America entered the war. The Army, Navy and Marine Corps grew, with more than 12 million men and women in uniform by 1945. The USO grew as well; by the war’s end, about 1.5 million Americans had volunteered for the USO.

Actor-comedian Bob Hope – a man whose name would be virtually synonymous with the organization – held the first camp show in 1941, and for the next five decades, he was the face of the organization.

Changing as America has changed

The organization changed just as the American military changed, and it is continuing to change. Wherever the military has gone, the USO has gone, too. There were USO centers in Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Somalia, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The USO also has centers at most major airports that provide a place for service members and their families to gather their wits as they travel, and the organization also helps service members as they transition out of the military.

The USO has grown to the extent that today, just a small portion of its budget goes toward entertainment; but that aspect is still there.

Firsthand look by Joint Chiefs chairman

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, led the annual USO Holiday Trip to Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy; Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti; Naval Support Activity Manama, Bahrain; Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan; and Ramstein Air Base, Germany, in December. He told the crowd at the anniversary celebration that the trip opened his eyes to what the organization provides the men and women of the U.S. armed forces.

The general said he would talk to the troops after the show and ask how they liked it.

“They’d say, ‘You know what, sir, for a few minutes, I forgot I was here. I felt like I was home,’” Dunford said. “That’s actually why President Roosevelt started the USO.”

But it is even more than that, and it goes to the heart of why the USO is important to America and its fighting forces, the general said. The country has asked a lot from its military since the attacks of 9/11, and the troops have performed magnificently.

“I think it’s exceeded any of our expectations, and there are a lot of reasons for that,” he said.

One of the reasons the young men and women who have deployed forward have performed so well is that they “have gone forward knowing that they had the support of the American people,” the chairman said.

“Certain organizations deliver that message,” he said. “Certain organizations are the physical manifestation of the support of the American people, and I don’t know an organization that does it any more than the USO. The USO is actually what delivers that message to them.”

Comm Airmen keep $84M network running

101BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS)

With hundreds of thousands of megabytes of data whizzing along miles of fiber optic wire, only stopping briefly to be digested by a network computer before blazing off to its next destination, managing this cyber domain requires a skilled team of expertly trained individuals; in the case of a deployed network, it takes two teams.

Airmen from the 455th Expeditionary Communications Squadron Network Operations and Client Systems sections have the critical responsibility of ensuring that the systems required for command and control, accountability, and more are functioning properly and are adequately protected from cyber threats.

“We manage the $21 million network control center, the brain of the $84 million network,” said Master Sgt. Ernest Dinolfo, the network operations section chief. “Today, everyone relies on the network and it’s a vital piece of the mission. We use it for everything from email to mission planning. It needs to be accessible to everyone so we can do our jobs.”

Monitoring the fidelity of more than 200 specialized servers that facilitate the use of nearly 6,000 unique individual and organizational accounts keeps network operations manned almost all hours of the day. They are tasked with making sure the systems are up to date with the newest protection and operating software, sometimes a challenge in and of itself.

“I’d say one of the biggest headaches we have while deployed is getting patches to work properly,” Dinolfo explained. “Sometimes computers won’t accept them, or they will, and it will break them. That’s why we have special test systems here to vet each patch before it is pushed out to the user. Often times we even have to manually install it to an individual user system.”

When it comes to troubleshooting and assisting those individual computer systems that just won’t take an update, the client systems technicians are there.

“We are kind of like ‘Geek Squad,’” said Senior Airman Andrew Dawson, the 455th ECS Client Systems technician. “We are responsible for keeping everything from the desk to the wall working. We install all the software and make sure it runs properly.”

In addition to the computers on the network, client systems technicians also fix telecommunication devices, printers, and other hardware accessories. Since arriving in 2015, they have improved processes, updated older devices, and helped increase efficiency in units all across Bagram Airfield. While any given problem could have a simple solution, these Airmen are tied into the more intricate bigger picture.

“When I fix something, I know that it is really important. I get to see what that system does and who uses it,” Dawson said. “I know when I helped the rescue squadron I improved their response time in saving lives. I feel a direct impact to the mission and it makes me feel good.”

Comptroller Airmen manage millions, serve thousands

Comptroller Airmen manage millions, serve thousandsAL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar (AFNS)

The 379th Expeditionary Comptroller Squadron manages more than $160 million and serves about 60,000 customers annually.

More than a dozen Airmen make up the 379th ECPTS team. Those Airmen provide a range of financial services at Al Udeid Air Base, including financial analysis, military pay, travel and Savings Deposit Program assistance.

One of the unit’s most popular services is currency conversion, a service that allows customers to convert U.S. dollars into Qatari Riyal and vice versa. The Qatari Riyal is the accepted currency in Qatar and the 379th ECPTS conducted thousands of currency exchanges in 2015.

Senior Airman Bryan Hersey, a 379th ECPTS cashier from Lompoc, California, disbursed more than $4 million over the past six months.

“Eighty-five percent of my job has been performing currency conversions,” Hersey said. “I’ve disbursed up to $15,000 in one day.”

Hersey said working with so much money can be nerve-wracking.

“The nerves can get to you when you’re dealing with so much money,” he said. “I’m careful to make sure I don’t miscount. I have to respect this job, the money, the customers and ensure I count everything accurately.”

One of the best parts of his job is helping people, Hersey added.

One customer had $8,000 in his account, but due to an error with his bank, he wasn’t able to access those funds, Hersey said.

Over a five-day period, Hersey and his supervisor worked with the staff at a bank in Boston to fix the problem.

“We worked with him and the bank in Boston to resolve the issue; it turns out everything was happening due to an invalid account number and we didn’t want the member to lose access to his funds because of that,” Hersey said.

Senior Airman James Ratzlaff, a 379th ECPTS customer service technician from Spokane, Washington, said he enjoys helping customers. On average, he assists about 430 people a month who have a wide variety of financial concerns.

He recalled helping a young staff sergeant, a mother of three, who wasn’t receiving the basic allowance for housing differential she was entitled to.

She has a family that she has to provide for, and she has to pay child support so that entitles her to BAH-DIFF, Ratzlaff said. For one reason or another, she wasn’t receiving it.

Ratzlaff quickly processed the request to start BAH-DIFF for the staff sergeant and the following month she had an extra $255 in her paycheck.

Helping her felt good, Ratzlaff said.

“We want things to work properly and it’s frustrating when they don’t,” he said. “We see the impact it has on people; we feel that frustration, so it felt great to see everything work out.”

The 379th ECPTS provides services for military members, Defense Department civilian employees, contractors and even coalition partners. In the past six months, the unit has performed more than 500,000 financial transactions for more than 37,000 customers.

“Our mission is to provide high-quality, objective guidance in financial management with a focus on customer service and decision support to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing and its associates,” said Maj. Chris Spaulding, the 379th ECPTS commander, from Homestead, Florida. “We pride ourselves on customer service.”

Since July 2015, the 379th CPTS input and audited over 11,000 pay entitlements, validated and funded nearly 4,000 base requirements, and managed the largest cash operation in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

Those are accomplishments to be proud of, Spaulding said.

“Our ability to generate positive experiences while delivering effective and efficient financial operations for our customers has been very impressive,” he said.

Biking brings hope to wounded, recovering veterans

Biking brings hope to wounded, recovering veteransCREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. (AFNS)

Members from Creech Air Force Base volunteered as part of the Ride 2 Recovery (R2R) program and brought more than 20 wounded and recovering veterans together for the Vegas Challenge Feb. 1-3 in Blue Diamond, Nevada.

The challenge provided wounded veterans the opportunity to come together with others battling some form of injury. Nestled in the rocky mountainous terrain of the Nevada desert, the veterans biked for more than 20 miles over a three-day span for team building, confidence boosting and physical therapy.

Paul, a 799th Security Forces Squadron resource advisor, is a representative for Project Hero, which is a local chapter of the R2R providing daily interaction and training with the veterans. He said seeing the change in the veterans after participating in the events is amazing.

“What this program does is exercising for rehabilitation through bike riding,” Paul said. “Not only does it help with the physical portion, it also helps with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and gets them out there socializing with other people.”

Paul said the program is responsible for helping veterans return to normal lives including socializing and physical fitness.

“We had a member who hadn’t been out of their shell in two years and now that same individual talks to everyone in the group,” Paul said. “Another member is paralyzed from the neck down and at first he was only able to ride for a quarter mile, now he can ride up to 10.”

For Paul, helping other veterans has also aided him in healing his own injuries, but he said being part of the program is his duty.

“The R2R helps me help them,” he said. “I can’t let one of my brothers or sisters in the arms stand by feeling lost, we’ve lost too many to suicide to not go out and help somebody.”

For one remotely piloted aircraft enterprise Airman, the program has helped him in ways he didn’t know possible.

“I’m just happy to be alive and be out here because I spent a lot of time depressed,” said retired Master Sgt. Chris White. “To be out here, it puts all the negativity out of my head and for that time I’m happy to be with my friends. We’re brothers in arms and I’m in my element with people who are like minded, and just want to escape the daily grind of having their struggles and be around people who understand what it’s like. We just go out and have a great time with each other with no judgement and everyone helps each other.”

White was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011. The disease is an incurable neurodegenerative disorder and causes tremors, slowed movement, rigid muscles, impaired posture and balance, loss of automatic movements, speech changes, and writing changes due to a loss of dopamine in the brain.

White served 18 years in the Air Force, first as an F-16 Fighting Falcon crew chief, and finished his career as a maintenance production superintendent for the MQ-9 Reaper at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. While serving at Holloman AFB, White spent time at Creech AFB to gain experience on the MQ-9 Reaper for a new squadron being stood up. During this time, he began to develop his Parkinson’s disease.

“I started developing Parkinson’s earlier than I let on; it was about 10 years ago when I first started noticing symptoms,” White said. “At that time I didn’t want to say anything because I barely had 15 years in and I knew my career would be over, so I decided to hide it for a while.”

Because of the high stress situation of working 16-hour days as the only production superintendent at a new base, White was pushed to a breaking point and was forced to face reality.

“Needless to say, there was a moment when I had my clipboard in one hand and radio in the other, crying on the flight line and I had to go to my commander… for the first time in my career I had to admit that I couldn’t do it anymore,” he said.

It was at this point that White began the medical board process. The Air Force granted White with the equivalent of a 30-year retirement and paid for his deep brain stimuli surgery, a procedure used to treat disabling neurological symptoms by blocking electrical signals from the areas in the brain that cause them.

“It took three years before I was finally moved out of the Air Force but there was a couple good things that came out of it because there’s no way I would have been able to do my job,” White said. “I had a good career and they paid for my surgery. Without that surgery I wouldn’t be here today, but I’m here able to ride my bike.”

For White, even walking or sitting still seems an incredible challenge, but the bike is his sanctuary. When he rides, his symptoms dissolve as if he doesn’t have the disease. This is true for nearly all the riders despite their ailments.

Even though White was a mountain biker for decades before his disease, he bikes today as part of his therapy to keep his muscles from becoming too stiff. He may not be able to set goals as high as he used to, but said he is thankful that he can still use his hobby as an escape.

“I always tell everyone that if I could ride my bike through life, Parkinson’s would have no hold on me,” he said.

White also said that even though the physical challenges can be difficult, they are easy compared to the mental challenges.

“The mental toll is what is really challenging, and this organization is about healing on a mental level and doing it with a crowd that feels your pain,” he said. “When I was laid up, I started feeling badly, feeling suicidal honestly and if those feelings go on too long or you don’t see that light, it can end badly. What kept me going was being able to get back on my bike.”

Most veterans knew a life before their injuries, making readjusting to life difficult for them.

“R2R is a groundbreaking veterans program that saves lives by restoring hope and purpose,” said Joe Coddington, the R2R events director. “Sounds easy but what we really do is reach out to veterans through cycling as a therapy for injuries, PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and really create a family for them to be a part of again.”

The opportunity to come and train together distracts the veterans from their struggles and allows them to open up with others.

Even though the veterans are recovering in one way or another, they are all unique. It’s a challenge to get every veteran back on the bike due to their distinct ailments, but the program is committed to getting everyone riding again no matter what.

“Some wounds are easy to see and some aren’t,” Coddington said. “One thing we say is that not everyone can participate in the same way, but everybody deserves to participate.”

Because every veteran’s injury is different, the R2R program has mechanics that can make custom bikes so each and every one can ride no matter what their condition.

After a new rider sits down with the mechanic, countless hours are spent figuring out how to best suit the veteran despite their injury. Once a bike has been fabricated, it is donated to the veteran for free.

The R2R which is made possible by its volunteers and support is able to build and donate custom bikes and in some cases even provide free transportation to events and meals.

(Editor’s note: One of the last names in this story has been removed for security reasons.)

Planning to quit, fighting to succeed: Airman earns Ranger tab

Planning to quit, fighting to succeed: Airman earns Ranger tabANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam (AFNS)

(This feature is part of the “Through Airmen’s Eyes” series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Stopping for a moment to catch his breath, the Airman realized he was nearing the limit of his willpower.

He placed his rucksack on the ground for a brief moment of rest and glanced toward the mountain peak ahead. He could hear the rain dripping from the tree branches above, soaking his gear and clothes.

Exhausted, craving sleep, food and a warm bed, he played with the idea of giving up. Deep down, however, he knew this wasn’t an option. He took a deep breath, forced himself to take another step and continued with his squad up the ridge.

Staff Sgt. Robert Keefe, the 736th Security Forces Squadron NCO in charge of training, was in the middle of the U.S. Army Ranger School. It was his chance to prove his mettle as a combat-ready Airman among some of the military’s toughest warriors.

Rangers are uniquely skilled service members who specialize in conducting airborne and air assault operations, seizing key terrain such as airfields, destroying strategic facilities and capturing or killing enemies of the nation. Only a few Airmen are given the opportunity to attempt to join this elite brotherhood.

Located in Fort Benning, Georgia, the school prepares volunteers in combat arms related functional skills. With a 40 percent graduation rate from 2011-15, Ranger school is one of the most grueling training courses a military member can attend.

“Ranger school is what I would consider the Department of Defense’s premier leadership course,” Keefe said. “It exists only to build the best leaders in combat for whatever branch you’re in.”

At Andersen Air Force Base, Keefe usually trains security forces Airmen to be proficient for contingency operations around the world. With 11 years of experience under his belt, the battlefield expert has sharpened his skillset with sniper training; learned how to survive and return with honor through evasion and conduct after capture training; and spent time as an investigator with a security forces unit at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota.

Preparing for Ranger school

Early 2015, while providing security support for the president, Capt. Nathaniel Lesher, Keefe’s executive officer at the time, approached him and asked if he was interested in the opportunity of becoming a Ranger.

“I selected Keefe to attend Ranger school, because it was apparent that he was both physically and mentally tough enough to finish the course,” Lesher said. “He is the guy who subordinates look up to and peers respect. Additionally, Keefe excelled at all core tasks and physical requirements in order to attend the school and with a short notice completed another physically and mentally challenging school the Close Precision Engagement Course earlier in the year.”

At first, the Airman shrugged it off thinking his captain was only joking. After all, only a handful of Airmen get the chance to join Soldiers each year.

“When he first asked me, I told him, ‘Sure I’ll go if you send me,’” Keefe said. “At first I didn’t think he was serious, but he asked me again a few more times over the course of the next couple days. Then I thought that he might actually be serious.”

After returning to Andersen AFB from a security mission in India in mid-2015, Keefe’s leaders decided he was ready to represent his unit at Ranger school and succeeded in securing his place on the class roster.

Used to him being gone for months at a time due to contingency response missions or deployments, Keefe said his wife, Ayesha, and their two sons Nicholas and Tighe, were very supportive with his decision to attend the school. Knowing how important it was to his boys, however, he made a promise to be home for Halloween. This commitment put Keefe on a tight timeline. To be back on Guam by that date required him to go straight through the course and pass all challenges without being recycled or phased back.

To prepare Keefe for his imminent struggle, he attended the Ranger Training Assessment Course an evaluation split up into two weeklong phases. During the Ranger Assessment Phase, Keefe persevered through unique tasks such as the Ranger Physical Fitness Test, a combat water survival assessment and various other physical fitness events. In addition, he learned troop leading procedures, patrolling techniques and small unit operations. In order to continue to the second phase, Keefe had to pass all RAP events.

During the second phase, Keefe and other students rotated into leadership positions and proved their ability to successfully accomplish small unit combat operations from planning through execution. In addition, the instructors evaluated Keefe on his ability to lead squad-sized patrols.

Once he successfully completed RTAC, Keefe gained passage into the Ranger course.

‘Air Force, what are you doing here?’

Pulling up to the training center at 7 a.m., Keefe noticed he was the first one to arrive. He anxiously stepped out of the taxi and collected his baggage.

After passing under a large Ranger tab suspended above him, he knew it was “go-time.” Seconds later, a Ranger instructor stopped Keefe and asked, “Air Force, what are you doing here?”

Without hesitation, the Airman replied confidently, “I’m here for Ranger school.”

The instructor chuckled and told him to go sit down. Listening to his instruction, Keefe placed his gear down beside him and took a seat on the training pad. While waiting for other trainees to arrive, he said he first questioned himself on what he was even doing there.

As time passed and more students arrived, Keefe noticed the operational camouflage pattern uniforms. As he observed operators pulling off their patches, leaving only their name and service branch signifiers, he noticed he was surrounded by some of the Army’s most elite Soldiers as the only Airman among his peers.

“I overheard some of the men talking and heard some say they were with special forces,” Keefe recalled. “I started to think, ‘These are some real guys I’m sitting here with right now. These guys are going to dominate this course and I’m going to have a tough time.’”

“Then I thought, ‘These guys aren’t better than me, they’re just like me. They’re probably thinking the same thing I’m thinking right now who is that kid and why is he in the Air Force? Why is he here, he must be something special,’” he added.

Benning phase

The Benning phase kicked off the 61 days of hell for Keefe and the other students. In the first week, Keefe demonstrated his physical stamina and mental toughness by exceeding the minimum of 49 pushups and 59 sit-ups in a two-minute span, six chin-ups and by running five miles in 40 minutes or less. Nearly 40 percent of failures occur during the first few days of this phase. Seeing trainees drop out motivated Keefe to push through the physical pain and mental strain.

Here, he was introduced to the instructors’ disciplinary measures. As often as they deemed necessary, the students were ordered to execute pushups, sit-ups, squats, and burpees until they were told to stop.

“The instructors are pretty much holding your hand throughout that phase,” Keefe said of the frequent pressure. “They beat you into the ground all day long. They worked us till we didn’t want to breathe anymore, but they showed us exactly how to do everything. They wanted us to perform, so they were very critical on the way they graded us.”

Keefe quickly realized how little sleep he was receiving during this experience. Sleep deprivation is part of the course and requires Ranger candidates to dig deep. Some nights he only slept for little more than 15 minutes or not at all. Keefe noted the most sleep he got during the training was a trifling two hours.

“One thing I learned about Ranger school is that I could literally sleep doing anything,” Keefe said. “I would sleep during conversations and at times, I would sleep walk. There was an instance when I woke up walking in the woods not knowing how I got there.”

Halfway there mountain phase

After learning the tactical fundamentals during the Benning phase, Keefe found himself in the northern Georgia Mountain Range for the stage of challenges. Here, he learned about knots, belays, anchor points, rope management, and the basic fundamentals of climbing and rappelling. In addition, he trained on how to properly evacuate simulated injured personnel and perform raids in a mountainous environment. Since Keefe had very little previous mountaineering experience up to this point, this segment proved to be difficult.

Between hiking through the mountains ambushing training sites, Keefe found himself exhausted and pushed to his limits. Mother Nature didn’t make things any easier for Keefe, either.

“It rained on us the whole time we were there,” Keefe said. “It was terrible, our ruck sacks were already heavy enough and the rain just made it even heavier. There were times where my ruck would weigh in excess of 80-100 pounds.”

Home stretch Florida phase

Battling exhaustion and hunger, Keefe knew he only had a few weeks left during the final stretch of the school. The finish line inched close, yet Keefe needed to survive the swamps of Florida. With his fellow classmates, he received instruction on waterborne operations, small boat movements and stream crossings upon arrival.

“By this time, we were expected to operate without help from the instructors,” Keefe recalled. “You’ve got it all figured out at this point and the missions should go well. It was hot, humid and the mosquitoes were like dinosaurs. You live in a swamp and you’re always soaking wet with mud. It wasn’t easy.”

After braving some of the harshest environments of the continental U.S., from mountain elevation to the humid heat of Florida, Keefe had proven that he met demanding requirements of the curriculum.

Without delay and recycle, Keefe graduated from the school on Oct. 16, and became the 266th Airman to earn the black and yellow Ranger tab. Not only did this enable to keep his promise to his sons, but according to Keefe, only 8 percent of students can say they accomplished this feat.

“(I didn’t make it straight through) because I was (exceptional) or anything like that,” Keefe said. “It was because I had a bunch of people around me who helped me get to through it.”

Not a day passed when Keefe didn’t experience a trial, but he knew he was never going to be presented this opportunity again. Dreading the thought of returning to his unit and being known as a failure, the Airman fought tooth and nail to earn the title of a Ranger school alumnus.

“Every single day I wanted to quit,” Keefe said. “I kept telling myself tomorrow you’re going to quit, then tomorrow came and I kept saying the same thing. I kept telling myself, if you quit then you’re going to be that guy who says they made it to the second phase of Ranger school then quit.”

Sporting the Ranger tab on his left shoulder, Keefe said he takes pride in knowing he is one of a few select Airmen who’s persevered through the grueling training and can now consider themselves a Ranger.

“I wanted my kids to be proud, I wanted my wife to be proud and I wanted to do it not only for myself, but for everyone who is important to me,” he said.