One final flight to honor their own

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Mason Wells, 6th Air Refueling Squadron KC-10 Extender boom operator, holds an American Flag in the boom of a KC-10 while flying over Maj. Brent Burklo’s funeral July 16, 2019, near San Antonio, Texas. Burklo was a KC-10 pilot at the 6th ARS who died July 10, 2019, after a two-year battle with cancer. The flag was flown in Burklo’s honor and given to his family. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Joey Swafford)

A KC-10 Extender and crew assigned to the 6th Air Refueling Squadron with the unique call sign of Brent06 took off early Tuesday morning from Travis AFB on a mission to honor one of their own.

The call sign will only be used one time and was in honor of Maj. Brent Burklo, 6th ARS KC-10 pilot, who passed away July 10 at the age of 32 after a two-year battle with cancer.

The crew flew nonstop to Texas to perform a flyover with the boom down in honor of Brent’s service to the country as his family and friends gathered at the cemetery for a service with military honors.

“As a friend and fellow Airman to Brent, I believe one of his great passions in life was to fly and serve his country,” said Maj. Gregg Boulanger, 6th ARS KC-10 pilot. “Being able to honor Brent’s memory with this flight will no doubt mean more than words can express to his friends and family.”

The flight was also meaningful for the crew members who all had served with Brent.

“I feel fortunate to be a part of this flight,” said Staff Sgt. Zachary Ruff, 9th ARS KC-10 boom operator. “Maj. Burklo played a part in many people’s lives in the KC-10 community. To be part of this crew means a lot to myself and every one of us flying today.”

“It is a humbling feeling to honor the memory of a close friend and an outstanding Airman,” Boulanger said. “When I was informed of the saddening news, I recall the feeling of helplessness. I am truly grateful to be given the opportunity to honor Brent and his family.”

Brent flew more than 41 combat missions over Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa. He enabled the Airmen of the 6th ARS to offload 13 million pounds of fuel, deliver three million pounds of cargo and 1,300 passengers in one year alone.

“Brent was an amazing officer,” said Lt. Col. Vincent Livie, 6th ARS commander, in a note to his unit. “But he was more than that, he was a combat-hardened aviator with his eyes always looking to the sky. His reach was global, supporting nine combatant commanders conducting operations from 65 feet below the surface to the outer reaches of space, and everywhere in between.”

Brent loved to fly and was proud to be an Airman; his passion for both made an impact on senior leadership and the Airmen who served with daily.

“Brent was an incredible Airmen who loved leading his Airmen and flying,” said Col. Jeff Nelson, 60th Air Mobility Wing commander. “He wanted nothing more than to get back in the cockpit and to fly with his squadron mates again.”

“He showed that even in the darkest of times, you can have a positive attitude,” Ruff said. “He battled cancer, was told he would never fly again, and still came to work every day with a smile on his face. He did everything he could to get back on flying status because flying was so important to him. He showed what people are willing to do when they truly love what they are doing.”

Brent’s departure will impact many across the Air Force, but his legacy will remain through the Airmen he led.

“The loss of Brent as a pilot and as a leader is significant,” Boulanger said. “Although he will be missed dearly by his fellow Airmen in the 6th ARS and around the Air Force, his legacy will never be forgotten.”