SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- The flight crews were watching the news, not knowing where they would necessarily be headed next but rather, it would be determined by the hurricanes and where they chose to touchdown.
Airman 1st Class Logan Smith, a C-17 loadmaster, was on a Bravo alert schedule in September at Dover Air Force Base, meaning that he had a bag packed for the week and was ready at a moment’s notice.
Smith received the call for a hurricane humanitarian mission Sept. 24 and within an hour they were in the air on their way to the U.S. Virgin Islands to support hurricane relief efforts. The crew was moving a Federal Emergency Management Agency command and control vehicle, land mobile radio tower and personnel.
“From a loadmaster perspective, everything about this load was complicated,” said the native of Chattanooga, Tennessee. “We had only six inches of play between the side wall, the trailer, the pickup truck and the other sidewall [on the C-17]. Then there was the huge communications truck; it’s one of those that just barely fits in the plane. It’s super heavy and really tall.”
For a loadmaster, after basic training, they attend aircrew fundamentals, basic loadmaster training and then after that when they’re flying a mission, it’s all muscle memory.
When they landed, it took them about 45 minutes to off load, a testament to the type of cargo and experience of personnel on board.
With two hurricanes, Irma and Maria, ravaging the U.S. Virgin Islands, Smith said his crew wasn’t sure what to expect upon landing at Cyril E. King International Airport, St. Thomas, Sept. 24. The airport was officially opened to civilian airlines Sept. 28.
“I’ve never been to the Virgin Islands before so it was surprising to open the crew entry door and look around at mountains,” he said. “Where we landed was less damaged because you have to land a plane on a runway that is okay. So it wasn’t as damaged as we expected.”
Not long after their mission to the Virgin Islands, Smith had a mission to Las Vegas, Nevada, in response to the concert shooting.
For that particular mission, they were supporting Presidential airlift and assisting in carrying secret service materials.
He describes the experiences of being a loadmaster and being on alert missions as being akin to the mentality of being ready to deploy.
“As for the mental aspect it is a lot like before you go on a deployment,” he said. “You have to be open and accepting of what is going to happen because we can be on one mission and it can change in the air. I kind of live the lifestyle of go with the flow.”
Smith had a year and a half in the Air Force when he faced his first humanitarian mission.
“Maybe on your first mission you don’t think about the impact,” said Smith. “Later it kind of hits you. A week and a half later on my way to support the Las Vegas mission is when it hit me. The Air Force cares about what happens inside and outside of America. I shouldn’t say it surprised me but it did, how quickly we were prepared to help.”