Airlift squadron retires, may come back in Alaska
By Master Sgt. Matt Proietti, 452nd Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs / Published October 24, 2005
MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif. -- The 730th Airlift Squadron retired from service March 19, 62 years after it first stood up as a bombardment unit during World War II.
“It’s a bittersweet day,” said 452nd Operations Group Commander Col. Jeffery Robertson. “We get to renew some old friendships, but it’s also a rather sad occasion when we say goodbye to a gallant, proven warrior and an old friend.”
March Field’s remaining four C-141 Starlifter cargo aircraft will retire from service in April.
The unit has flown Starlifters for 37 years. Plans call for the squadron to surface again in two years at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, flying C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. C-17s are also coming to March Field later this year to be flown by the 729th AS, the lone remaining cargo unit in the 452nd Air Mobility Wing. Many 730th people have already received C-17 training and will join the 729th AS, while others have chosen to retire or seek other jobs within Air Force Reserve Command.
Members of the squadron gathered in a historic aircraft hangar for a ceremony in advance of the unit’s official April 1 retirement. “Taps” played as they sheathed the unit’s guidon, the wooden staff which features the 730th flag and campaign ribbons showing its battle history.
Lt. Col. Michael Fortanas relinquished command of the 730th with ceremonial flair by passing the guidon to Colonel Robertson, who passed it to Master Sgt. Craig Spencer, the squadron’s first sergeant.
“It’s a very somber occasion and has weighed heavily on my heart,” said Colonel Fortanas. “When I took command, I asked (for us) to go away with dignity. You made it happen.”
Some unit reservists, including Senior Master Sgt. Robert Ziegler, a 730th loadmaster for 25 years, won’t continue flying. He has chosen to synch the end of his time in the sky with the passing of Starlifters from the Air Force’s active inventory.
“It’s been a long run and (the C-141 Starlifter) is a good plane, but it’s time to go. She’s old.”
Still, Sergeant Ziegler has a couple of missions left in him, including one in late March to Finland.
“We’re just hauling some stuff. Somebody up there needs it,” he said. “That’s what we do.”
Colonel Robertson, a longtime tanker pilot, praised Starlifters and the unit.
“I judge the merit of a plane on how old it is and how much it did. What you people did with it for (so long) is a tribute to the aircraft.”
The lone remaining airlift squadron at March ARB is the 729th, which like the 730th and 728th traces its history to World War II and Deopham Green air base east of Cambridge, England. The squadrons started as B-17 bombing units in May 1943, later serving in Europe from February 1944 to April 1945.
They were inactivated in August 1945 following the end of World War II, but two years later the 452nd and its three squadrons became Air Force Reserve units in Southern California. Its members were called to active duty in August 1950 to serve in the Korean War for nearly two years, flying reconnaissance missions and providing close air support and air interdiction.
The 730th flew at least 10 types of aircraft and had a succession of titles through the rest of the 1950s and much of the following decade, being known as a tactical reconnaissance squadron, tactical bombardment squadron, troop carrier squadron and a tactical airlift squadron. It became the 730th Military Airlift Squadron in March 1968, when it was selected to be the first associate unit in the Air Force Reserve, a system in which reservists fly active-duty aircraft and augment active-duty crews, in this case C-141 Starlifter cargo planes. It was known as the 730th MAS for a quarter-century until “military” was dropped from the title and the unit became the 730th Airlift Squadron.
Its crews carried cargo globally and airdropped paratroopers and equipment, flew medical evacuation missions and served during the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Squadron reservists flew the first U.S. military mission into Mongolia and brought home former Vietnam prisoners of war and, years later, the remains of GIs reported as missing in action.
Throughout its life, it served alongside the 728th and 729th squadrons, first in England and later at Norton AFB in San Bernardino. The 728th was reassigned to McChord AFB, Wash., in January 1992, where it now operates C-17 aircraft as an associate unit. The 729th and 730th moved to March Field in 1993 during Norton’s closure.
While the afternoon of March 19 was time for military ceremony, a dinner that night at the March Field Museum offered a casual setting for the sharing of memories by current and former members, many sporting beards and hair longer than Air Force regulations allowed during their careers. Among the museum’s displays was one recognizing the World War II achievements of 8th Air Force, the parent unit to the 452nd Bombardment Group and the 730th Bombardment Squadron.
“I was so jazzed, really pumped,” said Sergeant Ziegler. “There were people from way, way back, even before my time. I knew so many of the faces. It was such a great evening.”
Dozens of spouses were there, too, and they were thanked for their support of the unit.
“You don’t get this kind of camaraderie in other organizations,” said Col. Wes Taylor, the 452nd Air Mobility Wing’s vice commander and former head of the 730th.
During the official ceremony that afternoon, Colonel Taylor noted that he has come to the end of his military flying days with the retirement of Starlifters.
“I don’t believe this life is set up for ease and comfort. I don’t think that’s the purpose. The purpose is to overcome challenges and learn from them.”
The end of an era arrived 15 July 2000 with a ceremony to commemorate the farewell of the C-141 presence and to close the 16th Airlift Squadron, the sole remaining C-141 flying squadron at Joint Base Charleston. Although the squadron was inactivated, it was expected to spring anew in the future and become the fourth C-17 flying squadron when Boeing resumes C-17 deliveries to Charleston in October 2003.
At its heyday, Joint Base Charleston had as many as 58 C-141s parked on its ramp and the aircraft and its crews had earned the reputation as the "workhorse of Air Mobility Command." The C-141 Starlifter first flew in December 1963 and entered Air Force service in 1965. Aircraft number 63-0624 was the first C-141 to arrive at Joint Base Charleston on Aug. 14, 1965.
The durable jets are being retired because many have reached the limits of their serviceable life of 45,000 flight hours and will eventually be flown to Davis Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ. for storage. Jets with less hours will be sent to other C-141 bases such as McChord AFB, WA. and Altus AFB, OK. who will continue to fly the venerable airlifter. According to Air Mobility Command Plans and Programs officials, the C-141s will retire from the active duty inventory before 2004 and from the Reserves and Air National Guard before 2006.
Although the 16th Airlift Squadron didn't technically close until September 2000, the ceremony was moved to July because funding for the C-141 maintenance ran out on June 30th. There were at least 75 members still in the squadron at that time, a far cry from the 260 personnel who once walked the halls of building 54 and packed the Yonkie Auditorium just a few years earlier. The aircraft came off the books at the end of June and there were no more Primary Aircraft Assigned, which allowed the Squadron to draw down and take care of people without being tasked for training or operational missions.
Between June and October 2000, about 50 members of the 437th AGS either moved to other bases or retired or separated from the Air Force. The remaining 30 members, mostly staff sergeants through master sergeants, transitioned to the C-17 and spend six months to a year in upgrade training.
The 16th AS flew its last training and "real world" operational missions before June 30, just before the money ran out. However, the base still had about 6 C-141s left on the ramp and they were gradually flown off to other bases or retired to Davis Monthan AFB. The last C-141 flight from the base departed on or about September 7, when it was flown to Altus AFB, OK.
Charleston based C-141s had been involved in virtually every major military contingency, to include DESERT SHIELD and STORM, where C-141s moved the majority of the cargo for our forces and was the first airlifter on the ground. Charleston C-141s saw action during the Vietnam War, the Israeli and Egyptian conflict in 1967 and 1973, the U.S. intervention in Grenada and Panama and the crisis in Kosovo just to name a few.
At one time, the 16th AS provided the nation's only long-range, rapid-response, special operations low level (SOLL) capability. The squadron provided the backbone of the nation's elite special operations forces and used the "Bad to the Bone" motto on their unit patches. Ever vigilant in sitting continuous alert 24 hours, 7 days a week, the 16th routinely responded to short-notice National Command Authority taskings. The squadron used uniquely qualified aircrews, trained in the use of enhanced night vision equipment and specially modified aircraft for unconventional warfare ops. In this capacity, the 16th AS was tasked with delivering the sting of US special forces by maintaining continuous JCS-directed alert force for global contingencies and thus provide the nation's rapid deployment airlift/airdrop capability. These crews rapidly deployed and inserted special operations ground forces into blacked-out, austere airfields/drop zones and extracted those ground forces upon mission completion. SOLL missions are AMC's most demanding and the 16th was the only unit qualified to fly these missions. As a result, the 16th figured prominently in every major AMC operation.
During Operations Phoenix Moat/Joint Endeavor the 16th flew 77 sorties, transporting humanitarian supplies, equipment, and personnel into the AOR. The 16th AS also played a critical role in the success of Combined Joint Task Force Exercise 96 air assault, Operation Big Drop III, the single largest airdrop since World War II. Squadron aircrews led both the C-141 heavy equipment and personnel formations which totaled 21 aircraft. The squadron's 16 aircrews dropped 936 personnel and 93,400 pounds of equipment and supplies.
The 16th also played a key role in large formation airdrop training for the 82nd Airborne Division committing, on average, two crews per month to Sacred Cow missions. Rounding out the squadron's massive flying training regimen were approximately 15 local training/proficiency sorties per week.
The 16th flawlessly performed this complex mission for over 17 years while maintaining the best safety record in the Air Force, surpassing 919,000 mishap-free flying hours. This unique mission was formally transferred to McGuire AFB in April 1999.
The 16 AS lineage goes back to December 11, 1940 when it was activated. The squadron has flown the C-47 from 1941 to 1945, C-119 from 1950 to 1951, YC-122 from 1951 to 1955, H-19 in 1952, and C-130 from 1969 to 1993. The squadron's lineage moved from Little Rock AFB, AR to Joint Base Charlestonon October 1, 1993 when it took on the C-141 as its primary aircraft.
The history of the 16th Airlift Squadron dates back to its inception on 20 November 1940. The squadron was constituted on that date and activated two weeks later as the 16th Transport Squadron, flying C-47's at McClellan Field, CA. On 9 July 1941, the squadron moved to Portland, OR, where the unit completed basic training prior to entering W.W.II. On 12 June 1941, the 16th Transport Squadron moved to Westover Field, Massachusetts for 45 days of final outfitting for the War.
While at Westover field, the 16th Transport Squadron was redesignated the 16th Troop Carrier Squadron. In August 1942, the squadron moved to Ramsbury, England. While headquartered at Ramsbury, the squadron operated on detached service out of Maison Blanche, Algeria during November and December 1942. After that, the unit moved its staff, crews, and aircraft to Kairouan, Algeria, and remained there until June 1943. As the African war front changed, the 16th moved to Eldjem, Tunisia.
Then in September 1943, the 16th moved to Comiso, Sicily and went on detached service to India to assist in the re-supply of Brigadier General Merrill and his men, affectionately known as "Merrill's Marauders". It was during this Ceylon, Burma, India campaign that the squadron received its first Distinguished Unit Citation. Just prior to "D" Day, part of the 16th left India for Italy to tow gliders into France on "D" Day. In July 1944, the detached unit was joined by the remainder of the 16th TCS at Ciampino, Italy and as the European Theater closed in on Germany, part of the 16th again went on detached service to Rosignano, Italy, operating re-supply missions to Greek Partisans during September to October 1944.
At the end of the War, the 16th TCS moved as a unit to Wallerfield, Trinidad, where it stayed until being deactivated on 31 July 1945. On 19 May 1947, the 16th TCS was reactivated at Langley Field, VA, where it stayed until September 1948. On 19 September 1950 the squadron was redesignated the 16th Troop Carrier Squadron (Assault, Light), and reactivated 5 October 1950 at Sewart AFB, TN, in response to the growing tensions in Korea. While at Sewart, the squadron flew the C-119, the YC-122 (the predecessor to the venerable C-123), and was the parent organization to an attached flight of H-5 and H-19 helicopters.
The squadron was renamed the 16th Troop Carrier Squadron (Assault, Fixed Wing) and moved to Ardmore AFB, OK, in November 1954, remaining there until July 1955 when it was again deactivated. The 16th was redesignated the 16th Tactical Airlift Training Squadron on 14 August 1969 and was reactivated six weeks later at Sewart AFB, TN.
It then moved to Little Rock AFB, AR, in March 1970, flying and conducting initial upgrade training in the C-130 A and E models. On 1 October, 1993 the 76th Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, SC, was renamed the 16th Airlift Squadron, transitioning in the process to the C-141 as the squadron's primary assigned aircraft.
102 East Hill Blvd, Ste 223
Joint Base Charleston, S.C. 29404
(843) 963-1110 DSN: 673-1110
April 14, 1999
C-141s end Special Operations missions
By Technical Sgt. Mark Voorhis
437th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. (AMCNS) -- After more than 16 years of maintaining a Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed special operations force for global contingencies, the 16th Airlift Squadron officially began standing-down from that commitment April 9.
Col. Dale A. Kissinger, 437th Operations Group special capabilities director, said he is saddened to see the C-141 SOLL II mission leave, but understands the need for a new and improved aircraft.
"The special operations community here has been outstanding," Kissinger said. "We will all miss the camaraderie and challenge, but we're looking ahead."
For years, the 16 AS provided the nation's only long-range, rapid response, special operations low-level capability, responding to the National Command Authorities' taskings. Using specially equipped C-141 Starlifters and uniquely-qualified aircrews trained to use enhanced night vision equipment, this unit rapidly deployed and inserted special operations ground forces into blacked-out, austere airfield/drop zones and extracted those forces upon completion of their mission.
The stand-down directly resulted from plans to retire the venerable C-141 aircraft here and replace them with the new and more efficient C-17.
The special operations low-level missions will transition to another base for a period of time until the C-17 picks up the specialized mission. As a result of the move, the last C-141 aircraft departs Charleston AFB about June 2000.
by Airman Ryan Throneberry
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Public Affairs
11/21/2011 - JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is home to the 6th Airlift Squadron which has served with distinction since Oct. 14, 1933, making it the oldest airlift squadron in the Air Force.
The 6th AS is a historic unit, celebrating more than 75 years of service to the U.S. through transporting troops and supplies worldwide.
The current mission for the men and women of the 6th AS is to train and equip C-17 Globemaster III aircrews for global air and land operations for some of the most-demanding missions in Air Mobility Command.
The 6th AS is the only airlift squadron in the Air Force whose nickname harkens back to its historic first mission during World War II.
"The Bully Beef Express" is a nickname which dates back to World War II when the 6th AS became the first personnel transport squadron to fly in the Pacific. The assignment was to transport several tons of boiled beef to allied combat troops in Australia and New Guinea. The French referred to this as "bouilli boef". The American warfighters took a liking to this name and put their own twist on it, thus "The Bully Beef Express" was born. The nickname stuck and the unit patch has largely remained unchanged from the original concept.
"There is pride and heritage that comes with this patch," said Lt. Col. Doug Hall, 6th AS commander. "This is the oldest and arguably the best airlift squadron in the Air Force."
The 6th AS has collected many campaign streamers and distinguished unit citations throughout its long history to include four Presidential Unit Citations for operations in World War II and the Korean War.
"A great thing about this squadron from the enlisted perspective is that it's a unit recognized around the world and everyone here is proud of that," said Senior Master Sgt. Troy Coville, 6th AS superintendant. "Everywhere we go, we leave our mark because we do well."
The 6th AS has taken part in many important operations during the lifespan of the Air Force including missions involving nuclear weapons. The Bully Beef Express participated in the largest nuclear weapons movement in U.S. history in 1991 and 1992. The 6th AS ended its 22-year nuclear airlift mission in December 1993.
The mission and aircraft have changed over the years, but the quality and intensity in which the 6th AS personnel perform their duties has not.
"We are the masters of all trades when it comes to air and land mobility," said Maj. Marc Greene, 6th AS operations officer. "We support the warfighter in combat operations, medical evacuation operations, high level distinguished visitor transport and presidential support. There's really not much we can't do."
The 6th AS unique mission of escorting people of interest on a regular basis set them apart from other airlift squadrons.
Hall said since his tenure with the 6th AS, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has flown three times to Iraq on the C-17s. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, both took their first trip downrange with the 6th AS.
The 6th AS not only transports military leaders, it produces them. Gen. Raymond Johns, AMC commander, was assigned to the 6th AS from 1982 to 1984 as a company grade officer where he served as an executive officer.
Coville mentioned despite the highly-visible nature of the distinguished-visitor mission, every mission undertaken by the 6th AS is completed with the utmost professionalism and dedication. He added that is why the 6th AS will continually be called upon to take on these challenging missions.
By Michael Dukes, 315th Airlift Wing Public Affairs / Published September 04, 2014
JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. Members of the 315th Operations Group gathered during the July B flight unit training assembly to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the crash of a C-141 Starlifter flown by a nine-member Reserve aircrew from the (at the time) 701st Military Airlift Squadron.
Eight aircrew members and one passenger died when their aircraft crashed during a mission shortly after departing Sigonella, Italy July 12, 1984.
"Now in the memory of the men who we have lost, we have been given a soul," said Lt. Col. Craig Smith, 701st MAS commander, on July 21, 1984 - less than two weeks after the crash.
More than 60 current and former Reservists and family and friends attended the small memorial event at C-141 display at the Joint Base Charleston Heritage air park.
The placard unveiled in July, 30 years later reads: "... As fellow 701st crewmen, our mission began the solemn moment their mission came to an end. It carries on to this day; we honor their service to country, we uphold the squadron and ideals our fallen brothers passed on to us, we have learned from their final lesson to us, and we stand with those who still mourn their loss."
The fallen Reservists were:
1st Lt Steven Grapperhaus ACMaj Alan Wilson CP1st Lt Michael Hodge CPMSgt Refugio Rivera FETSgt John Dasenbrock FE
Base 'stretched' C-141s in 1979
by Mark Wilderman
By Donna Miles
WASHINGTON, Feb. 12, 2013 – Forty years ago today, a C-141A Starlifter transport jet with a distinctive red cross on its tail lifted off from Hanoi, North Vietnam, and the first flight of 40 U.S. prisoners of war began their journey home through Operation Homecoming.
By the day’s end, three C-141A aircraft would lift off from Hanoi, as well as a C-9A aircraft from Saigon, South Vietnam. In a steady flow of flights through late March 1973 under terms set through the Paris Peace Accords, 591 POWs returned to American soil.
Americans were spellbound as they watched news clips of the POWs being carried in stretchers or walking tentatively toward U.S. officers at the awaiting aircraft for the first flight from Hanoi’s Gia Lam Airport.
The POWs ranged from privates first class to colonels, all wearing new gray uniforms issued by the North Vietnamese just before their release.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. James R. Cook, who suffered severe wounds when he bailed out of his stricken aircraft over North Vietnam in December 1972, saluted the U.S. colors from his stretcher as he was carried aboard the aircraft. Also on the first flight was Navy Cmdr. Everett Alvarez Jr., the first American pilot to be shot down in North Vietnam and, by the war’s end, the longest-held POW there. He spent eight-and-a-half years in captivity.
Celebration broke out aboard the first aircraft -- nicknamed the “Hanoi Taxi” -- as it lifted skyward and the POWs experienced their first taste of freedom.
Historian Andrew H. Lipps captured the magnitude of the moment in his account, “Operation Homecoming: The Return of American POWs from Vietnam.”
“Imagine you’re imprisoned in a cage; imagine the cage surrounded by the smell of feces; imagine the rotted food you eat is so infested with insects that to eat only a few is a blessing; imagine knowing your life could be taken by one of your captors on a whim at any moment; imagine you are subjected to mental and physical torture designed to break not bones but instead spirit on a daily basis. That was being a prisoner of North Vietnam,” Lipps wrote.
“Then imagine one day, after seemingly endless disappointment, you are given a change of clothes and lined up to watch an American plane land to return you home. That was Operation Homecoming.”
Aeromedical teams assigned to each aircraft tended to the former POWs during the two-and-a-half hour flight to Clark Air Base in the Philippines, the first stop on their trip home. Meanwhile, many of the POWs joked and smoked American cigarettes as they caught up on all they’d missed while in captivity: fashion trends and the women’s liberation movement, among them.
“Everything seemed like heaven,” recalled Air Force Capt. Larry Chesley, who, after being shot down over North Vietnam, spent seven years in the notorious “Hanoi Hilton” and other POW prisons. “When the doors of that C-141 closed, there were tears in the eyes of every man aboard,” he said.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Ed Mechenbier, the last Vietnam POW to serve in the Air Force, recalled the emotion of his own journey out of North Vietnam on Feb. 18, 1973. "When we got airborne and the frailty of being a POW turned into the reality of freedom, we yelled, cried and cheered,” he said.
The POWs arrived to a hero’s welcome at Clark Air Base, where Navy Adm. Noel Gayler, commander of U.S. Forces Pacific, led their greeting party. Joining him were Air Force Lt. Gen. William G. Moore Jr., who commanded 13th Air Force and the homecoming operation at Clark, and Roger Shields, deputy assistant secretary of defense for POW/MIA affairs.
Speaking to the crowd that lined the tarmac to welcome the aircraft, returning POW Navy Capt. Jeremiah Denton -- who would go on to earn the rank of rear admiral and later was elected to the U.S. Senate, representing Alabama -- elicited cheers as he thanked all who had worked for their release and proclaimed, “God bless America.”
Air Force Lt. Col. Carlyle “Smitty” Harris, who spent almost eight years as a POW after being shot down over North Vietnam, joined the many other POWs who echoed that sentiment. “My only message is, ‘God bless America,’” he said, dismissing assertions in the media that the POWs had been directed to say it.
“With six, seven or eight years to think about the really important things in life, a belief in God and country was strengthened in every POW with whom I had contact,” he said. “Firsthand exposure to a system which made a mockery of religion and where men are unable to know truth made us all appreciate some of the most basic values in ‘God bless America.’”
Air Force Col. Robinson Risner, the senior Air Force officer at the infamous "Hanoi Hilton" honored today by a statue in his likeness at the U.S. Air Force Academy, choked back emotion as he arrived on the second C-141 flight from Hanoi.
“Thank you all for bringing us home to freedom again,” he told the crowd.
After receiving medical exams and feasting on steak, ice cream and other American food, the former POWs received new uniforms for their follow-on flights home. Their aircraft made stops in Hawaii and California. The first group of 20 former POWs arrived at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., on Feb. 14, 1973.
News clips of the arrival reveal the deep emotion of the freed POWs as they arrived on the U.S. mainland. Navy Capt. James Stockdale, who went on to become a vice admiral and vice presidential candidate, was the first man to limp off the aircraft.
Stockdale paused to thank his countrymen for the loyalty they had showed him and his fellow POWs. “The men who follow me down that ramp know what loyalty means because they have been living with loyalty, living on loyalty, the past several years -- loyalty to each other, loyalty to the military, loyalty to our commander-in-chief,” he said.
Of the 591 POWs liberated during Operation Homecoming, 325 served in the Air Force, 138 in the Navy; 77 in the Army and 26 in the Marine Corps. Twenty-five of the POWs were civilian employees of U.S. government agencies.
In addition, 69 POWs the Viet Cong had held in South Vietnam left aboard flights from Loc Ninh. Nine other POWs were released from Laos, and three from China.
Forty years after their release, two of the former POWs serve in Congress: Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas.
A dinner and ceremony being planned for late May at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in California will honor the POWs, recreating the dinner the president hosted for them at the White House in 1973.
Air Force Reservists Fly Last C-141 Mission to Combat Zone
Air Force News | By Maj. Ted Theopolos | September 27, 2005
AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio - For the last time in its long career, a C-141
Starlifter aircraft flew military patients out of a war zone Sept. 26.
by Staff Sgt. Frances Kriss
By Shelly A. McGuire
Desert Lightning News Editor
DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do are more than mere words on a page, they are Air Force Core values; the foundation in which every Airmen builds character.
For crewmembers of a military strategic airlifter, the C-141 Starlifter, these are words to live by.
Three decades after a near-fatal crash in Richmond, Australia, all living members of the group, one eye witness and family members, reunited for the first time at the 309th Air Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) at Davis-Monthan Oct. 31 for a memorial service honoring three of their comrades in arms; Veterans Capt. Chester J. Trosky, Jr., aircraft commander, Staff Sgt. Robert E. Wright, Jr., loadmaster, Master Sgt. Roosevelt "Rosie" Williams, loadmaster, and, to say good-bye to the old 'friend', that held their lives at bay that day.
Affectionately referred to by its' tail number, the 64-0614 or "40614" arrived at AMARG Jan. 28, 2004 and provided the setting for the memorial service and reunion, where the men reminisced about their life-changing, near-crash.
They took their original positions in the aircraft at AMARG, reflecting on how events unfolded.
The 53rd Military Airlift Squadron Airmen took flight from Norton Air Force Base, San Bernadino, Calif., on a special mission to Alice Springs, Austrailia, they explained. "Our orders were to quietly go in and get out", said the flight's Navigator (1st Lt.) Eli E. Colotta, shaking his head.
The 40614, however, wasn't privy to their mission objective.
Directly after taking off from Richmond, Australia, en route to Alice Springs, the aircraft's number three engine experienced an un-contained engine failure, where a turbine blade split and penetrated the number four engine; instantly causing it to fail.
A cargo fire soon ignited, instrument panels went out and the aircraft filled with thick, dark smoke from the burning household goods.
The augmented crew couldn't see what was going on from inside, but they knew it was serious and solemnly prepared for a crash landing.
(Capt.) Robert T. Brown, co-pilot, previously stationed at D-M and reunion initiator, told of his flight instructor's heroism.
He said (the then 28-year-old) Capt. Trosky, took over the controls and veered toward a nearby riverbed with just two good engines and no standard operating procedure to refer to, as the ablaze 40614 continued to descend on the town of Richmond.
While still prepared for a crash landing, Capt. Trosky lead his men to safety. He pioneered an unrecognized technique referred to as "milking up the flaps," which stabilized air speed and later became an officially recognized procedure for handling a multi-engine failure.
All crewmembers scrambled to do their part and teamwork paid off.
Capt. Trosky was quoted in the Sun-Telegram describing his teams actions, "I kept getting reports from the back (saying) that we were on fire." He said that while he fought for control, crewmembers fought the flames, assessed the damage and radioed for crash-crews to stand by.
They landed trailing engine parts and fuel; all Airmen miraculously survived. "So much for the quiet entrance," they joked.
Debris from the plane fell on homes in the town of Richmond, where the town's newspaper published the story, front-page news. Photos of a once-in-tact engine near a home where one woman was hanging out her laundry hit the media, along with photos of a toddler -- who sat with her toys next to the too-close-for-comfort, peppered-full-of-wholes, engine cowling. Native Australian Bob Maddern was working on the nearby C-130 flightline, when he heard a skin-crawling explosion. He joined the crew's memorial service and reunion and has since moved to the United States, devoting the past 30 years of his life working on aircraft.
"The (near-crash) demonstrated how fickle life can be," he said. "It's an example of people surviving against all odds."
Crewmember, (Staff Sgt.) Karl Freienmuth, one of the crew's flight engineers, sums it up this way: "We are all tested in different ways, but 'passing' a test like what we went through, gives one a certain confidence that sticks. A subset of that is, we all passed together; everyone kept trying. Even when very little was working, no one even considered giving up. We don't have to wonder if we'll pass the big test when it comes. We (already) did that together."1
Although 30 years have gone by, the men agree -- their bond is unshakable; Wingmen for life.
One of the crews navigators (1st Lt.) Israel "Izzy" Yarchun said that after the incident some of the crew used to get together, occasionally, but gradually lost touch.
"I'm really thrilled to be able to get together with the crew," he said. "It's not the aircraft that matters to me -- my sentimentality is toward the people I shared the experience with. It's momentous."
The emotional reunion and reflection was an opportunity for the men to remember their departed comrades and put to rest their short, nine-minute-and-55-second "test" of faith.
During the memorial ceremony, Chap. (1st. Lt.) Douglas Hess, 355th Fighter Wing chaplain, led the worship service, providing guidance to help put things further into perspective, with the reading of the Holy Bible's 91st Psalm. He reminded everyone of God's providence.
"Providence is a word that is not often used in today's language, but it is very appropriate for our ceremony here today," he said.
"When we think about Providence, we think of God's works, which are Holy and wise; that powerfully preserve and govern all His creatures and all their actions."
"Today, we who are gathered, are thinking about that . . . 'How did this plane stay in the air when everything went wrong? Why did some parts of the plane stay together and other parts fail?' The flight crew may be asking, 'how did we do the very things that we did to stay alive, when other flight crews did not?' We're thinking about those who lived through the crash and those who lost their lives un-expectantly. In all of it, we are humbled and thankful at God's Providence," he said.
"This is the work of God's providence. May we not miss His lesson and may we honor Him with our praise."
After closing prayer, the group signed the aircraft, reminisced and said their final goodbye to a faithful 'friend,' -- good 'ole 40614.
Capt. Trosky was honored by his wife, Kate, and two children Ken and Brittany. They signed the plane with unfaltering conviction, and wrote these words in shouting, uppercase letters: "IN LOVING MEMORY OF CHET TROSKY, JR. -- HUSBAND, FATHER &; PILOT EXTROARDINAIRE!
(Staff Sgt.) Freienmuth said, "It's interesting, at least to me, to think about the demographic of
10 guys -- a big, augmented crew for 24-hour-duty days. As you see all the time, the service is a great melting pot, where our country's finest meet. In our case, here we are 30 years later. There were six officers (two of whom were Air Force Academy graduates) and four enlisted guys. We lost Chet to cancer, Rosie (to a tragic death) and Bob Wright died in a rare C-141 crash. The remaining guys are living pretty successful and comfortable lives. You have to wonder if that's about normal for any group of 10 Air Force guys you'd track, after three decades . . . That (single) event connected us for life."
(Capt.) Ronald Pregmon, co-pilot, added, "Getting back together, renewing our friendships and more importantly, remembering the three crew members that are no longer with us was the most important part of our reunion."
The men expressed what a joy it was to meet their former Captain's children and their gratefulness that his family could attend.
"One of the greatest aspects of our reunion was meeting Chet's children. It's amazing to think
that they wouldn't have been born if we had not survived the accident. I was so glad they, and Kate, could be here to see us honor Chet's life and his flying accomplishment in Australia," (Capt.) James Tompkins, co-pilot, said.
The group would like to see the aircraft on the main Pima Air and Space Museum tour route, but because the 40614 has been reclaimed for parts, its' airframe sits hollowly at AMARG in a Type 4,000 storage category and is considered excess to Air Force requirements.
"The aircraft will, more than likely, remain in its current parking position," said Terry Vanden-heuvel, 309th AMARG Public Affairs representative and tour-guide. "Because the airframe is very visible from the public tour bus route, its' historical significance will be included in the official tour script."
The men wanted to thank everyone for all they did to help make their reunion possible.
"I appreciate all the people at Davis-Monthan and the Pima Air and Space Museum, who made it possible for us to honor our brothers and meet Chet's family," said (Senior Master Sgt.) James Copeland, the crews flight engineer. "We were treated with so much kindness and respect. It's heartening to experience that there are still people in our country who value our service and treat us with such enormous regard and dignity."
From the crew's heroic actions in Australia that day, to the lovingkindness and protective concern for their fellow Wingmen and their families, to AMARG's unprecedented accommodation of their request, including Ms. Vanden-heuvels preparation and escort, to Chaplain Hess' well-thought-out memorial service, to the maintenance personnel and tour bus driver, to Mr. Maddern, who came to show support and who, along with Karl Freienmuth, provided research and graphic material, there can be no doubt that Air Force core values: Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do has indeed become the foundation in which these Veterans, public servants and Airmen live by.
These core values are not about being perfect or doing everything right in every instance; that's impossible. They are about having a belief system in place as a gauge to correct oneself, when necessary.
"A failure is not someone who fails, but rather someone who stops persevering," said Pastor-teacher and World War II Veteran (Col.) R.B. Thieme, Jr.
Thank you, Veterans, for your courage, sacrifice and valor. Your service has not gone unnoticed.