In January 2005, the Repp family boarded a Hawaii-bound KC-135 Stratotanker to escape a bitter-cold winter at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington.

Aboard that space-available flight, Danielle, the second of three Repp children, climbed up front, put on a headset and watched an air refueling mission for the first time. She was 15.

Her father, now-retired Chief Master Sgt. Daniel Repp, had spent his entire 30-year career as a boom operator.

"It kind of clicked — that's the job for me," Danielle said of the experience.

She decided to head to college after high school and major in business. But the memory of the refueling mission lingered. In 2009, Danielle saw her older sister, Taryn, join the Air Force, become a medical technician and get stationed overseas.

"I was watching all that. I watched her tech school graduation," Danielle said. "I saw all these opportunities in the Air Force."

In 2012, three years after Taryn headed to basic, Danielle decided she, too, would enlist. Her No. 1 career choice: boom operator.

That she'd joined the Air Force at all surprised her dad. He'd tried not to push his children toward any particular career path. The military, Daniel had told them, was one of many options.

Now his two eldest children were beginning their Air Force careers just as his ended. Daniel had spent his first two years out of high school working. He joined the service in 1981 because, he said, "I was really looking to be part of something bigger, a greater cause."

He went in without a job assignment and no clear idea of what he wanted to do. "While at basic training, they pull you aside and tell you these are the must-fill jobs and hard-to-fill jobs and see who might like to volunteer. I knew nothing about air refueling," the retired chief said, but he signed up anyway.

"It was an exciting adventure" that took him to bases in Michigan, Oklahoma, California, New Jersey and Washington, he said. Daniel served as an instructor, squadron and group superintendent and a numbered Air Force evaluator before retiring from Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, in 2011 as Air Mobility Command's functional manager.

When Danielle announced she was joining the Air Force, "we talked about all sorts of different jobs" in the service, he said. "I really wanted it to be her decision. I stayed away from trying to bias her. It was her choice. I gave her all the information I could, introduced her to people in various jobs."

But Danielle was sure she wanted to refuel planes like her father.

"He was beyond ecstatic," she said of her dad's reaction.

Today, Danielle, a senior airman, serves as a boom operator with the 351st Air Refueling Squadron at RAF Mildenhall, England. Mindful of how watching the refueling mission at 15 impacted her life, she calls up tanker passengers to get a glimpse of the task as often as she can.

Father and daughter talk at least twice a week, their conversations often centered around work.

Being a boom operator "is very different for her in many ways. The mission is very different. What tankers do today is very dynamic. Schedules change rapidly. They're all over the world doing work," Daniel said.

He entered the Air Force during the Cold War when the focus was on nuclear deterrence. "Deterring the bad guys meant tanker and bomber crews sat alert for a week, in a facility adjacent to our loaded aircraft, separated from our families, waiting to launch at a moment's notice. Every third week was a week on alert," he wrote in an email.

"One thing that hasn't changed is tankers are often in the background. They're not on the front page," Daniel said.

The Repp family's Air Force story isn't over yet.

Jacob Repp, the youngest, heads to basic training in January. He's been selected to become an airborne linguist.

"I'm very proud of my girls and my son. I think they are not only doing what they enjoy, but the work has meaning and purpose," Daniel said. "Sometimes, things work out better than one can hope."

In Other News
Load More