Fly-in event opens doors for McConnell Reservists

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Abigail Klein
  • 931st Air Refueling Wing

McConnell’s 931st Air Refueling Wing is home to more than 700 Traditional Reservists who commute from 33 states each month. Some of these TRs, with the help of the 931st Wing and its support agencies, both enlisted and officers have turned towards the sky to save time and avoid the long monthly commute.

“For most of our pilots, this recruitment and retention fly-in event supports the passion for flight, which is a cornerstone for most of our members and the reason they came to the Air Force, while also flexing to the needs of our members,” said Maj. Bradford Ragan, 905th Air Refueling Squadron KC-46 Pegasus mobility pilot. “We understand that most of our people do not live within the local area. If we can make coming to work easier for our potential pool of applicants and current members, we will hopefully encourage them to stay with the 931st ARW.”

While several members already had the applicable approvals, this fly-in event was meant to demonstrate support for them and help other members through the process. Creating this fly-in event took more than six months of coordination and required coordination with the 22nd Air Refueling Wing, the active-duty host unit at McConnell, the, 22nd ARW Base Operations, Transient Alert and Contracting offices. Ragan and Capt. Bryan Bowser, 18th Air Refueling Squadron pilot, helped each reservist work with the Pentagon’s Civilian Landing permit office to make it official.

Despite all the coordination required, Ragan is happy he could help accomplish this feat at McConnell because he believes in the long run that it makes more sense to provide this option for 931st ARW members.

“As it stands, units all across the Air Force have members who fly general aviation and I think that says something about their desire to just be in the air,” said Ragan.

First Lt. Aaron Maurer, 905th ARS KC-46 mobility pilot and temporary air reserve technician, has been a member of the 905th ARS for a year. He and 10 other members of the 931st ARW, participated in the organized fly-in event. Maurer joined after taking off in a Van’s Aircraft RV-4 on the morning of Sept. 11 from Stearman Field in Benton, Kansas.

“It’s good to show our members the utility of being able to fly into the base, and for other members who live further out, it’s more convenient,” said Maurer. “As pilots, we love to fly and to be able to transport ourselves from point A to B.”

Capt. Sierra Dopfel, 905th ARS KC-46 mobility pilot and chief of scheduling, was another member who took part in the organized fly-in event Sept. 11. She chose to fly her Piper Cherokee 140 for the event. Dopfel, a former boom operator for the 18th ARS, is also excited about having the option to fly her aircraft into McConnell for UTAs.

“The fly-in option is a good thing because pilots really enjoy flying,” said Dopfel. “It’s also a good way to encourage people to join our Wing and to encourage a love of flying.”

Senior Master Sgt. Michael Stahl, 905th ARS assistant superintendent and instructor boom operator, has been with the 931st ARW since 2002.

Stahl has had held his private pilot’s license for 18 months. He started flight instruction in 2005 while he was active duty but a transition from active duty to the Reserve, school and his civilian career forced him to put his license on hold for 15 years.

Stahl’s career forced him to move from Hesston, Kansas to Omaha, Nebraska in 2018. To find a quicker commute to McConnell to perform drill, Stahl again began focusing on obtaining his license. Offutt is home to the LeMay Aero Club which facilitated Stahl’s flight training for military members and allows me to utilize both aircraft, instructors and facilities.

Like Maurer and Dopfel, Stahl is excited to have the ability to utilize his flying skills while also shortening his commute each month to McConnell

“I think the ability to utilize McConnell is important for 931st and 22nd ARW personnel alike. It allows us commuting flexibility to and from training and duty, encourages a broader knowledge base to apply within military responsibilities and strengthens the versatility of supporting roles such as airfield management and air traffic controllers within the tower,” said Stahl. “Most importantly it supports the Air Force Reserve's mission to fly, fight and win.”

After the organized fly-in this month, Ragan is optimistic about the continuation of these retention and recruitment fly-in events.

“The mission and the people are repeatedly the reason that most people stay, but we need to make it easier and safer for our members to continue their civilian career, while also showing that we are doing everything we can to keep them,” said Ragan. “Being able to fly in to work is as much a privilege as driving on to the base. It’s a small amount of leg work to ensure, but at the end of the day, we care about our people and we want to retain and recruit the best men and women in the country.