17 air­men un­der­take 18-hour mis­sion to help in dis­as­ter zone.

Dayton Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - By Bar­rie Bar­ber Staff Writer


Air Force Re­serve Sr. Air­man FLA. — Bri­anna Se­na­tore wasn’t given much no­tice when she packed her bags, got on a C-17 fly­ing in to New Jer­sey from Wright-Pat­ter­son Air Force Base and hop­scotched across the eastern United States to a hur­ri­cane dis­as­ter zone in Florida.

She and five other re­serve fire­fight­ers climbed aboard the Wright-Patt-based C-17 Globe­mas­ter III at Joint Base Mc-Guire-Dix-Lake­hurst, N.J., wing­ing toward south Florida in the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Irma pum­mel­ing the state.

“Hon­estly, we were told at 9 in the morn­ing start pack­ing your bags and then we got a call around 9:30 to head to base as fast as we pos­si­bly could,” she said.

This news­pa­per on Tues­day fol­lowed along as the four-en­gine cargo jet from the Air Force Re­serve 445th Air­lift Wing at Wright-Pat­ter­son hauled 17 air­men and 74,000 pounds of cargo — pack­aged Meals Ready-toEat, a mobile kitchen, cots and two mas­sive fork­lifts — on an 18-hour cross-coun­try marathon.

‘It’s pretty fast ... al­most chaotic’

Along with New Jer­sey, the C-17 landed at Dover Air Force Base, Del., and Dob­bins Air Re­serve Base, Ga., be­fore the troops de­parted and the crew un­loaded ev­ery­thing at Homestead Air Re­serve Base, Fla., as the sun set un­der the palm trees and the sky turned dark. The short­est stop lasted barely 20 min­utes and the long­est a lit­tle more than two hours on the 12-hour round-trip jour­ney through five states.

“It’s pretty fast (and) al­though it’s pretty cal­cu­lated and con­fig­ured, it’s al­most chaotic...,” said Staff Sgt. Ja­son Bene­dict, 35, of Colum­bus and a cargo load mas­ter.

Fac­ing her first real-world mil­i­tary mis­sion, Se­na­tore wasn’t sure what her team might be called on to do, but the fire­fight­ers were trained to res­cue stranded home­own­ers hemmed in by wa­ter, she said.

“We don’t know ex­actly what we’re go­ing to do, but we’re go­ing to be on hand wher­ever and for what­ever to help with the sit­u­a­tion,” said Se­na­tore, a re­servist who is a nurse’s aide at a Philadel­phia hospi­tal in her civil­ian job.

At Dover Air Force Base, the short­est stop, Staff Sgt. Ish­mael Dixon climbed aboard with 10 other air­men as the jet en­gines never shut off. The air­men will co­or­di­nate lo­gis­tics on the ground at Homestead.

It wasn’t the way Dixon dreamed he would spend his 29th birth­day Wed­nes­day.

“We say ser­vice be­fore self,” the Rochester, N.Y. na­tive said. “It’s some­thing I don’t mind do­ing.”

He didn’t know how long the lo­gis­tics team might have to stay. “As long as they need us to,” he said.

Filling the tank

Lt. Col. Brett Manger, 46, C-17 air­craft com­man­der, made sure the jet was filled with 180,000 pounds of fuel for the trek.

“That will get us all the way back to Wright-Pat­ter­son with­out hav­ing to get gas so that makes us get down there faster,” the Beaver­creek res­i­dent said.

“We got a lot of peo­ple on back-up ready to go,” he added. “Once we get back, the tail’s prob­a­bly go­ing to turn and launch back out again on an­other one.”

The crew had an 18-hour time limit — two hours longer than nor­mally al­lowed — to get ev­ery­thing where it needed to be and get back to Wright-Pat­ter­son, he said.

“It’s kind of rare that we get this many legs in one day,” Manger said.

“We get 18 hours to get on the ground and be done or else we time out so we don’t want to be stuck in Florida.”

On take­off and land­ing, tons of cargo plas­tic wrapped and tied down on pal­lets lurched for­ward and back. Load masters tied chains and chocks to se­cure two gi­ant green fork­lifts as big as and taller than large SUVs.

For Bene­dict, who has trav­eled to 30 coun­tries with the Wright-Patt re­serve wing over nearly a decade, the push to get there and back on a gru­el­ingly long day was rou­tine.

“We get around,” Bene­dict said. “We fly non­stop. We never re­ally time out for any­thing. We’re highly op­er­a­tional even as a re­serve unit.”

The round-the-clock work shift makes it hard to sleep, said Bene­dict, an oil and gas in­dus­try sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the civil­ian world.

“Rest­ful sleep is al­ways good,” he said, still pro­fess­ing his love of the fly­ing job.

Manger, a for­mer Army he­li­copter pi­lot, is a long­time vet­eran who has flown Air Force Re­serve mis­sions from Wright-Patt around the globe, in­clud­ing hot spots such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

The for­mer Army he­li­copter pi­lot switched to fly­ing heavy air­lifters like the C-17 in the Air Force Re­serve to see more of the world.

On this trip, he said, “we’re on the same time zone so it’s a lot friend­lier on our body. When you’re go­ing over­seas you’re cross­ing six, seven dif­fer­ent time zones and you’re just whipped.”

“It’s a su­per re­ward­ing job do­ing what we’re do­ing whether we’re tak­ing beans or bul­lets down­range or bring­ing back the wounded,” he added. “We’re al­ways mak­ing sure that we’re on time, ready to go when­ever we need to.”

The C-17 was one part of a large-scale De­fense De­part­ment de­ploy­ment of thou­sands of troops to Florida, Puerto Rico and the Vir­gin Is­lands in the days af­ter Hur­ri­cane Irma rocked Florida, a story that also played out in Texas when Hur­ri­cane Har­vey un­leashed dev­as­tat­ing floods.

The Pen­tagon re­ported this week nearly 21,000 troops, in­clud­ing each ser­vice branch and Na­tional Guards­men, were in­volved in hur­ri­cane re­lief ef­forts in the eastern United States and an­other 10,000 in the Vir­gin Is­lands and Puerto Rico. Among the flotilla were Navy and Coast Guard war­ships and air­craft, Air Force cargo planes, Marine am­phibi­ous units and Army trucks trans­port­ing re­lief sup­plies.


Two mas­sive fork­lifts await to be un­loaded from a Wright-Patt C-17 that flew to Homestead Air Re­serve Base, Fla.


A Wright-Pat­ter­son Air Force Re­serve C-17 crew un­loads hur­ri­cane re­lief sup­plies at Homestead Air Re­serve Base in Florida on Tues­day night.


Load­mas­ters push cargo into place aboard a Wright-Patt Air Force Re­serve C-17 that landed at Joint Base McGuireDix-Lake­hurst, N.J., on its way to Homestead Air Re­serve Base, Fla.

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