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More than a photo-op: Participating in JB Charleston's mobility exercise

  • Published
  • By Brent Jonas, Director of Stakeholder Relations
  • Charleston Regional Development Alliance

Editorial note: This commentary was originally written by a Joint Base Charleston honorary commander for a civilian audience detailing his experience participating in this year's large formation exercise. Honorary commanders are key members of the community who help increase public awareness and understanding of the JB Charleston mission.


"What I can do for my country, I am willing to do." My recent experience brings layers of meaning to these words from South Carolina patriot and soldier, Christopher Gadsden. How often do you ask yourself and reflect on what you personally are willing to do for your country? I have reflected on that very question since participating in a C-17 large formation exercise that flew over the Ravenel Bridge, the statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina and to Fort Polk, Louisiana in May. The leaders of Joint Base Charleston graciously included a group of local elected officials, media, and several of us from the Honorary Commanders program in this mission.


To say I cleared the calendar when the invitation came would be an understatement. This is just the type of event I hoped to experience when I signed up for the Honorary Commanders Program. This program encourages an exchange of ideas and experiences between community and military leaders, providing a unique opportunity for Charleston civic leaders to shadow military commanders across the installation and, in this case, fly in a C-17.


We witnessed the plane’s back ramp open over the Ravenel Bridge, paratroopers exiting the aircraft over Louisiana and a mid-air refueling on the way back. While all were spectacular feats, through it all I was reminded this was more than a photo-op. In fact, the crews of the C-17s were preparing mobility forces for tomorrow’s battles, enhancing partnerships with Army units, and working to sustain the global mobility and superiority our forces enjoy. And while it was awe inspiring for us, this was about executing Tuesday's mission for our aircrew.


I was struck by their laser focus. I enjoyed chatting with Airman 1st Class Janet Escobedo, an aircraft structural maintenance apprentice from El Paso, Texas, who spoke about being “in awe” of being able to work on multi-million dollar aircraft every day. She told me the strangest repair she’d made was fixing a nose cone that an unfortunate bird crashed through. After seven months in Charleston, this first generation military member was always excited about the challenge tomorrow would bring.


The economic impact of our military in Charleston is well documented. In fact, there are more military personnel in the region now than when the Navy base closed and hopefully the situation will remain that way. The work these men and women do is both valuable to our region and critical to our nation's security. It was a privilege to see it firsthand.


Again, I ask, how often do you pause and reflect on what you personally are willing to do for your country? The airmen we met put their lives on the line so all of us will remain safe and free. I would ask that you join me in supporting their efforts, and if you get the opportunity to give back or say “thanks” don’t hesitate, because they never do.