JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- A C-17 Globemaster III aircrew here flew the final mission out of MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, Sept. 8, 2017 prior to Hurricane Irma making landfall.
The flight was performed as part of an evacuation from JB Charleston to Scott Air Force Base, Illinois where 11 437th Airlift Wing C-17s were temporarily based to continue to perform operations throughout the evacuation.
“We’re operating from Scott as a stage,” said Capt. Daniel Casico, a C-17 pilot and aircraft commander for the mission. “Each unit is tasked on a first in, first out basis. So as aircrews arrive, they are put into crew rest and then into alert status where they can be tasked as mission requirements arise.”
For the final mission out of MacDill, the aircrew retrieved an Enroute Patient Staging System and a 15-person medical team, which was deployed back into the region following the storm to aid victims.
“We were the last crew to fly into MacDill,” said Staff Sgt. Drew Gayhart, 16th AS loadmaster. "We picked up a medical team and their supplies and delivered it to Scott, which was the central staging location for our operations during the hurricane.”
The same aircrew was the first to land at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, after the hurricane passed. They landed Sept. 11, 2017, delivering a crisis response team to reopen the airfield and return it to normal operations.
“We brought in the contingency response team who are the first people to come into an airfield after a disaster,” said Gayhart. “Once they arrive, they make sure everything is ready for the mission to resume and then reestablish operations.”
The purpose of evacuating the aircraft is to prevent damage and continue to carry-on the rapid global mobility mission. Worldwide operations don’t stop for natural disasters, such as hurricanes. Operational demands increased as missions to fly relief supplies and medical teams ramped up.
“We just go into operations in new locations," said Casico. “We’re still flying worldwide missions, just out of different airports. Because of the dynamic range of tasks the aircraft and crews are capable of and the centralized planning function we harness, it doesn’t matter where we are. We can still make use of the same assets and fly the same missions expected of us.”
At their essence, these missions were just like any others. It’s just a load for the loadmaster or a flight for the pilot, but Gayhart said being on the ground in those two very different circumstances were unforgettable.
“It’s humbling to be one of the first people back in there seeing the storm devastation,” said Gayhart. “It’s awe-inspiring to be the last people out there. Because you’re part of the team flying into the storm to get the last few people and bring them to safety. Then, only a few days later, you turn around and bring them right back in to fix the problem.”