“One of my biggest fears was raising my children away from my family,” said Master Sgt. Edward Soto, 344th Air Refueling Squadron operations superintendent, after recently deciding to reenlist for the fourth time in his Air Force career.
“In 2010, one of the reasons why I was going to get out was because my kids were young enough to create those relationships with [their immediate] family,” Soto explained.
Many aspects of life can influence a service member’s decision to reenlist, which not only plays a large role in their lives, but the lives of their families as well.
“It’s a huge commitment on his part and his family to serve the United States and the United States Air Force and provide selfless dedication,” said Maj. Patrick Miller, 22nd Air Refueling Wing executive officer.
Soto, a family man from Phoenix, Arizona, and one of the first in his family to join military, became a part of the Air Force in June 2001. His infatuation with military movies drove his desire to enlist.
“Enlisting was always a dream for me,” Soto stated. “I didn’t know I was going to be enlisted, but I kind of knew from seventh to eighth grade that I was going to be in the military.”
After landing the job to become a boom operator, it took Soto an estimated year and a half to become fully qualified on the KC-10 Extender. He had four and a half years left of his enlistment, which flew by after the student phase was over, and he participated in multiple temporary duty assignments and deployments.
“Within that time is when I started my family at a very young age,” Soto said with a proud smile on his face. “So, some of my decision making had to alter because I was a new father and husband.”
With six years of service under his belt, he, with his wife’s support, in the midst of a deployment, decided to reenlist for another four years while in an aircraft.
“I was thinking that I was going to get out at 10 years, so I wanted it to be an even 10,” said Soto after explaining why he extended for four more years. “If I would’ve gone past [10 years], I would have felt like I would’ve needed to stay longer.”
Expecting to get out of the Air Force, Soto sent in a request to become a sensor operator, which he accomplished in 2009 after being stationed with the 6th Air Refueling Squadron at Travis AFB, California.
“I knew there wasn’t a big career field for boom operators on the outside, so I knew I had to get a different type of skill,” Soto explained.
Three and half years went by at Creech AFB, Nevada, where he provided air support for deployed operations as a sensor operator. The experienced gained from being a sensor operator opened more doors for Soto to begin a life outside of the military.
“When it was time for me to get out at my 10 year mark, the civilian sector with jobs was too unpredictable,” said Soto. “A lot of people weren’t hiring and people were trying to get into the Air Force for a more stable job. It was very difficult to step away from that job security.”
With job stability as one of his concerns and after consulting his wife, they decided to add four additional years to his service time. He also decided to move back to being a boom operator on the KC-10.
“Because the KC-10 community is so small, I went right back to Travis to the 6th ARS, the squadron that I was in and [a part of] in 2012 and I was there till 2016,” said Soto.
In September 2016, Soto and his family arrived at McConnell AFB. While assigned to the 344th ARS Soto was still attached with the 6th ARS in order to keep his KC-10 certification. He continued to be attached with the squadron in Travis until the arrival of the KC-46A Pegasus. Soto believed that his time as a sensor operator helped with his application to become a boom operator for the KC-46. After being selected, he participated in academic and simulator training for the new aircraft in March 2017. In 2019, Soto expressed that he was ecstatic to be selected as a part of the crew to deliver the first KC-46 to McConnell.
“I feel like we’re so early in the game in creating a culture for this aircraft,” said Soto. I’m so excited to be a part of it and [I’m] look forward to giving back to the community that has given me and my family so much to be happy and proud of.”
Recently, the Soto household was faced with a pivotal decision. After making Wichita home for three years, the family could be faced with a permanent change of station. Soto explained that Wichita is the first place that his wife, daughter and son could make home for the long term.
“At the end of your enlistment there’s a date that – you know – my time has come to decide if I’m going to continue serving or not,” said Soto. “We all came to the same conclusion that we’re going to continue to serve our country and be together as a team wherever the Air Force ends up sending us.”
On June 28, 2019, Soto reenlisted for the fourth and final time, which will bring his career past 20 years of service. Just like his first reenlistment, the ceremony was held in an aircraft, but this one being in the KC-46. Not only was he able to reenlist in the aircraft, he was able to have Maj. Miller, who Soto met at Travis as a KC-10 aircraft commander, reenlist him while the Pegasus was airborne.
“Reenlisting – for me – is understanding the responsibility that you’re taking when you say that you’re going to commit to serving our country,” Soto expressed proudly. “It’s a huge responsibility that you take on and not only that, my family takes that sacrifice.”
Soto and his family will continue to serve the Air Force by providing an influential stamp on the introduction of the KC-46.
DISCLAIMER: This article was originally published at the Defense Video Imagery Distribution System Hub (www.didvshub.net). The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.
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