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JB Charleston evacuates aircraft from hurricane zone, maintains airlift capabilities

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt. Jonathan Lovelady
  • 628th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Joint Base Charleston personnel assigned to the 437th Airlift Wing and 628th Air Base Wing began evacuation flights for 24 C-17 Globemaster III aircraft Sept. 11, 2018, in anticipation of Hurricane Florence making landfall.

The aircraft and supporting personnel planned and executed flights from Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina to three designated safe locations within 48 hours of notification, a move designed to sustain the wing’s airlift capability. The aircraft were relocated to Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois, and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

In alignment with the limited evacuation order issued by Col. Terrence Adams, 628th ABW and JB Charleston commander, Col. Clint ZumBrunnen, 437th Airlift Wing commander, made the decision to evacuate aircraft in order to protect valuable assets while allowing them to continue their previously-scheduled missions.                                                                                                                                                               

“The safety of our service members and their families is our priority,” said Adams. “We’re following the lead of the governor of South Carolina and issuing a limited evacuation order. At the same time, it is our responsibility to continue our global airlift operations in support of the Department of Defense, our nation and our partners and allies. I have the utmost confidence that our Airmen will continue to execute their missions in an effective and professional manner.”

Col. Clint ZumBrunnen, echoed Adams’ sentiment, adding that the evacuation and continuation of the mission required a team effort. 

“It is a testament to how the team that I inherited works together,” said ZumBrunnen. “Essentially, within 36 hours of being told to go, we launched 24 aircraft, which includes maintenance and aerial port. The operations group came together to execute a plan that’s very complex, and within that period of time, we got every airplane out of here. We couldn’t do it without the Air Base Wing [or] our partners in the 315th AW who had crews fly airplanes away for us.”

Lt. Col. Travis Elliott, 16th Airlift Squadron director of operations, not only led the execution phase of aircraft evacuation effort, he also flew with a C-17 crew from JB Charleston to Scott AFB to ensure their readiness for any taskings received.

“It’s very important for the security of our personnel to get out of here, and get the aircraft out of here to make sure they don’t sustain any type of damage,” said Elliot. “It’s also important that we continue the mission as well, so we’re going to Scott [AFB] to continue the missions that we had already been scheduled for and evacuating aircraft allows us to do that. Plus, if there is any kind of recovery effort needed – of course, we hope there isn’t – we’ll be available to go and assist those folks.”

Having observed the mission planning process and one of the evacuation flights first-hand, Elliott expressed his amazement with the performance of everyone involved.

“In just over a day and a half, agencies across the entire base got these aircraft off the ground and that is absolutely amazing,” said Elliott. “It’s been a great experience, great folks to work with across the board.”

Staff Sgt. Andrea Jansen, a 16th Airlift Squadron loadmaster on Elliott’s flight, attributed the “seamless” execution of her crew’s evacuation to effective teamwork, coordination and planning from units across JB Charleston.

“I’m impressed with how flawlessly we were able to execute,” said Jansen. “A lot of what we do, we couldn’t do without the people that are supporting us [like] aerial port [and] maintenance. We can’t get off the ground without them. I’m really proud to be a part of the team that’s doing it.”

According to Jansen, getting off the ground means delivering “anything, anywhere, anytime, and providing support to people that need it.” However the work doesn’t end, her crew was scheduled to fly an overseas mission within days of arriving at Scott AFB. Back to back missions require extensive effort of the 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron as well.

 “It was really a testament to the capabilities of the individuals on both the [Joint Base Charleston] side as well as the Scott Air Force Base side.” said Capt. Christie Taylor, 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s Blue Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge. “There was communication all throughout the night to make the mission happen and be ready to go the next day to be up in the air. It was really tremendous.”

The effort put forth by Scott AFB Airmen was a factor, which enabled her team to quickly get situated so they could focus on their mission and maintain readiness for the next phase of operations. Almost immediately after arriving, Taylor’s team began performing inspections and maintenance on more than 10 C-17s that relocated to Scott AFB, roughly half of the total evacuated.

“We have a potential for up to 14 aircraft and that’s because we have aircraft that came in from Charleston, but we’re also receiving missions here right now,” said Taylor. “We’re being fluid and flexible to be able to support not only the aircraft that left from Charleston, but the continuing missions that are still happening despite a hurricane.”

Taylor went on to emphasize the importance of looking after the Airmen who look after the mission. 

“It’s times like these where they’re unfortunate, but it’s really a time to appreciate what the Air Force does for our people,” said Taylor. “Not only are we taking care of resources and aircraft and continuing missions worldwide, but we have families that we’re calling out to – people who are deployed. It’s a time to be really proud of our Air Force and to see people coming together to make things happen. I’m really happy to be a part of that.”