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BEEliners bring humanitarian aid to St. Croix

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Joseph Swafford
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing

ST. CROIX, U.S. Virgin Islands – As U.S. Army and Marine Corps helicopters delivered humanitarian aid throughout St. Croix, a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III from Travis AFB, California, landed Sept. 23, at the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport, bringing humanitarian aid to residents affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. 

The Travis C-17 crew assigned to the 21st Airlift Squadron, also known as BEEliners, received the St. Croix humanitarian aid tasking after completing another humanitarian relief mission to Mexico City.

“The two missions on this trip demonstrated our rapid global mobility capabilities,” said Staff Sgt. Jacob Costello, 860th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron C-17 flying crew chief. “We were able to leave home station in a moment’s notice, make it down to March Air Reserve Base, fuel and load our aircraft and make it all the way down to Mexico City in just one evening.”

At the request of the Mexican government, the crew delivered 67 U.S. Agency for International Development elite disaster team members and five canines, along with equipment and medical supplies to Mexico’s capital to support search and rescue efforts after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck the country Sept. 19.

The C-17 was on its way back to California after leaving Mexico City when the 618th Air Operations Center at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, contacted the crew with a new tasking in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency relief efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The 618th AOC coordinates an average of 900 airlift and air refueling missions each day. They can seamlessly redirect aircraft to support requirements for contingency or humanitarian relief operations.

“When we thought we were on our way home, we got an emergency tasking to deliver aid supplies to the people of St. Croix and diverted to Kelly Field (Texas), to be ready to deliver those supplies when the airfield was ready for our aircraft,” said Costello.

When missions change mid-flight, flexibility from the crew can be critical to mission success.

“C-17 crewmembers are used to rapidly changing missions and situations,” said Capt. Whit Gremillion, 21st AS C-17 pilot and mission aircraft commander. “We have to prepare for the worst situations and hope for the best.”

Capt. Kyle Brackett, 21st AS instructor pilot, echoed Gremillion's statement and added, “when changes come up, we deal with them because all of us know how important missions like these are.”

Another critical component of bringing the needed humanitarian aid to those suffering is teamwork.

“The crew working together is essential to mission completion,” said Senior Airman Austin Whisler, 21st AS C-17 loadmaster. “Missions have so many moving pieces. If everyone is not doing their part, it can become chaotic.”

“The mission moves because of our ability to interface as a crew and with agencies on the ground,” said Gremillion. “Without it, we probably would have never gotten out of Travis in the first place.”

Utilizing flexibility and teamwork, the aircrew successfully and efficiently brought 105,000 pounds of needed food and water to the residents of the island.

“It feels good knowing that the cargo we delivered will have such a positive impact on the people of St. Croix,” said Costello. “Having been through several severe hurricanes while I was growing up, I certainly understand how the people of St. Croix feel.”

The successful delivery of the USAID team to Mexico and the humanitarian aid to St. Croix, are just a couple of the humanitarian relief missions currently being delivered out of Travis AFB throughout the world.

“It feels incredible to be able to directly impact the lives of so many, missions like this is why I wanted to be a Loadmaster,” said Whisler