SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- When members of the Presidential Cabinet and Congress, foreign heads of state, and other dignitaries executing global missions vital to U.S. national security need to travel, members from the 54th Airlift Squadron and 73rd AS step up to provide them with safe, reliable transportation.
“Our primary mission is to fly executive airlift for our nation’s senior leadership,” said Lt. Col. Ian Laughrey, 54th AS commander. “Some of the missions we’ve executed this past year include bringing the attorney general of the U.S. to Washington, D.C. within 24 hours, following the incident in Orlando, Florida. We’ve flown the Air Force Chief of Staff, and the first lady, and we’ve flown the second lady on her trip to Africa. We’ve also flown the congressional oversight committee to examine all at-risk embassies following the Benghazi attacks.”
They provide global air mobility, making sure the right assets and people are where they need to be. In 2016, the total force team of the 54th AS and 73rd AS traveled to 85 countries, including Germany, Italy, Russia, China, Israel and Cuba.
“We provide safe, comfortable, and reliable executive airlift," Laughrey said. "Over the past 10 years, we have flown tens of thousands mishap free flying hours, and we provide world-class service every day.”
In addition to important missions with key leadership, the flying squadrons also have opportunities to conduct morale-building experiences.
“We executed the first National Guard Bureau Chief’s USO tour and brought celebrities and entertainers to visit service members downrange,” Laughrey said. “It was a fantastic mission for the crew, working with the USO tour; we brought joy and happiness to 3,000 service members.”
In order to conduct their business smoothly and proficiently, the 54th AS has integrated itself with the 73rd AS, an Air Force Reserve unit. This association allows both units to work with each other and learn from other service members’ experience.
“I fly with pilots who have thousands of hours with various airlines,” said Capt. Chris Knaute, 54th AS chief of training. “Some of the Reserve unit personnel are teachers and doctors. They have a wealth of different experiences. Professionally, it gives us a diverse work environment. The biggest benefit is that experience and the different cultures.”
The team includes members from active duty, Air Reserve Technicians, and the traditional Reserve personnel, who work one weekend a month and two weeks a year, to supplement the full time service members.
Lt. Col. Nicholas Vazzana said the teams are so integrated, so it’s not always easy to tell who is a part of the active duty component, or who is a part of the Reserve component. The different units have combined to make one cohesive unit that enjoys working together.
“Our active duty personnel will show up during the Reserve’s drill weekends and train with them,” said Vazzana. “They don’t have to do that.”
The team also works with other units to provide top-quality service.
Last year, both squadrons flew with several different units, including units at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, Ramstein AB, Germany, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, and an Air National Guard unit in Washington, D.C.
“Because we do it every day, we’re the ones who are comfortable with that level of interaction with these units,” Vazzana said. “We can help them with current training requirements or step in when they’re down an aircraft. That’s the life we live.”
Laughrey said that now they’re working with the Presidential Airlift Group, 201st Air National Guard in Washington, D.C., and the 89th Airlift Wing, about learning the new administration—their likes, dislikes, their staff, and how they plan to operate.
“We have put together a First Lady Transition Team, who will work hand in hand with the presidential airlift group to ensure seamless operations for the first lady and her staff,” Laughrey said. “We are getting a lot of good lessons learned from the executive airlift team. Every time they touch down, there is great communication between the squadrons about what worked and what didn’t. If the President or the first lady is coming to your house, you’d want them to feel welcome.
“The service we expect to give them is the same. The airplane is their office in the sky. If they are going on a trip, we work diligently to ensure we manage their expectations and provide excellent service.”
Vazzana added no matter who they are flying to their destinations, the airlift team works meticulously to ensure their guests are well taken care of, regardless of who is part of the team.
He doesn’t want those traveling on the C-40s to be able to tell which squadron members are on board; his goal is for them to only be aware that they are flying with the Air Force.
“The end goal is for it to be such that the customer can’t recognize who’s providing the service,” said Vazzana.
“We want the level of service to be the same no matter which squadron is working. We are the face of the Air Force to the vast majority of civilian leadership," he said.