‘Tanker Toads’: Brink Family’s Legacy of Valor

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Preston Webb
  • 931st Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
“I am Faithful to a Proud Heritage, A Tradition of Honor, And a Legacy of Valor.”

Airman recognize these lines from the Airman’s Creed. For Senior Airman David Brink, 18th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator these words carry a double meaning.

David is the third generation in not only an Air Force heritage, but a KC-135 Stratotanker family.

David’s grandfather, retired Lt. Col. Ronald Brink, claims to have fallen in love with the idea of flying as a boy. Ronald’s love evolved into commitment when he joined the Air Force in 1961. He was assigned to fly the KC-97 Stratofreighter tanker aircraft at Schilling Air Force Base in Salina, Kans.

Three years later, Ronald’s squadron was moved to Castle Air Force Base, Calif., to train on the, then brand new, KC-135A. So began a lineage of Tanker Toads that has lasted 54 years so far.

During Ronald’s active duty career, his son retired Lt. Col. Randy Brink acquired his father’s taste for flying while living at Bunker Hill AFB, now Grissom Air Reserve Base.

“I knew I wanted to be a pilot when I was little, living at Bunker and listening to the B-58 Hustler and KC-135s flying in,” Randy said. “I knew I wanted to be a part of it (the Air Force flying community).”

Randy commissioned through the University of Kansas’ ROTC program, and was selected to fly the KC-135. After Ronald retired in 1984, he pinned on Randy’s flying wings at his pilot training graduation at Vance AFB, Okla., in 1986.

Randy quickly fell in love with a mission he knows is vital to the Air Force’s success.

“The mission is so critical and so central to everything the Air Force does,” Randy said. “Giving fuel in the middle of a fight is basically the key to our success. Every time I climb in, I realize how amazing it is and how wonderful it is to have the privilege to do this mission.”

David, grew up in an Air Force household, watching his father refueling the flight, just as his father had grown up.

“My dad and grandfather would show me photos and videos of their flights and I’d think, ‘Man, that’s cool,’” David said. “But as I grew up and saw more and more of what they accomplished I realized it’s more than just a cool job. Flyers are a family with an incredible mission.”

David set out to become an Airman just like his father and grandfather, enlisting in the Air Force Reserves as a boom operator in June of 2016.

For a time, two Brink Airmen called McConnell home and served side by side to accomplish the in-air refueling mission.

“It’s quite surreal to see him walking around the squadron in a flight suit,” Randy said. “[He’s] a crew dog, telling crew dog jokes, understanding them and hanging out with my brothers in arms that I’ve been flying with for years. I’ve never been more proud of my kid than I am today.”

Randy recently retired in June, but postponed his ceremony because David wasn’t slated to return from a deployment until July.

“I wish he could stick around longer so I could spend more time with him, but it was such a relief to hear that he delayed the ceremony until after I got back,” David said. “As an Airman, I understand why this is so important to him. I’m just glad that I was able to be here to support him.”

With Randy’s retirement, David is the only member of the Brink family currently serving in the military

“It’s been an honor serving in the air force all these years, and an incredible honor see my son follow in my footsteps,” Randy said. “Although David is a legacy, he is an Airman in his own right. He has earned everything himself. He is a superior boom operator and an incredible individual.”

David, who was an honor graduate and BMT and in the top of his class at technical school, continues their legacy while striving to make his own path.

“In my day to day life, I’m just trying to make my own way and make the KC-135 my own,” David said. “But there are times I’m flying on the jet and I get pretty nostalgic, because they may have used a lot of the equipment that I’m using, it’s very surreal,”

Ronald, Randy and David have all expressed the bittersweet feelings that come with the arrival of the KC-46 Pegasus, as it also means the retirement of the KC-135.

“It’s time. The 135 has been at it for a long time,” Randy said. “Being a ‘tanker toad’ has been an incredible life. It has been a great privilege. Replacing it is necessary. It will have to happen, but seeing it leave McConnell will be a sad day.”

David said he sympathizes with his father and will also miss the KC-135, but is focused on the future, planning to become a pilot for the KC-46 when he completes his degree.

“If all goes well, in a year I’ll be finished with school a submitting a package for pilot training,” David said. “I just want to give back to the country, give back to the Air Force.”

Who can say what the future holds for the Brinks? It’s fairly safe to say for these ‘Tanker Toads,’ the sky’s the limit.