Lt. Col. Rick Rupp, 14th Airlift Squadron commander, visits with Vice President Dick Cheney in the cockpit of a C-17 while en route to Afghanistan. 14 AS aircrew members provided airlift support for the vice president during his recent Middle East tour. (White House photo by David Bohrer) (Photo by David Bohrer)
Vice President Dick Cheney emerges from a Charleston C-17 at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. A 14th Airlift Squadron aircrew transported the vice president while he was in the Central Command area of responsibility recently. (Courtesy photo)
CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. —
A Charleston AFB aircrew transporting the vice president through Southwest Asia, had to react quickly when a suicide bomber struck the base where they were staying.
The bomber struck the main entrance of Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, last month where Vice President Dick Cheney was lodging and the 14th Airlift Squadron aircrew promptly transported him out of harm's way aboard the C-17 "The Spirit of Strom Thurmond."
After picking up Vice President Dick Cheney from Oman and then flying to Pakistan, the crew spent time on the ground at Bagram. Bad weather in Afghanistan required the vice president and the crew to stay overnight, making Cheney the most senior Bush administration official to spend the night in a war zone. When things took an extreme turn the morning of the suicide bombing, the crew was prepared. Within an hour of the red alert, Cheney was safely back on the C-17 and transported to Kabul as planned for a meeting with Afghan president Hamid Karzai.
Completing the pre-flight and getting the plane ready for departure, Capt. Carl Rotermund, a 14 AS pilot, explained what was going through his mind when the explosion happened.
"I stuck with my job, hurried due to an anticipated quick take-off and just maintained my composure. Anytime something happens you must continue doing your job so you're prepared for anything," he said.
Tech. Sgt. Justin Strain, a loadmaster from the 14 AS, was in the back of the airplane when the attack took place.
"When the bombing happened, my training immediately kicked in and I went on instinct to finish my job," he said, in addition to reconfirming that everyone made it out safe.
Staff Sgt. Scottie Wilder, a 437th Security Forces Raven, was providing security at the front door when the bombing happened and also explained that his training instinctively came to mind.
"It made me think of our troops that have to provide protection like this 24/7 and go through these situations daily," Sergeant Wilder said. "It made me appreciate their job and the security they provide us even more."
For most, this was a first being in such a critical situation but without hesitation, the aircrew worked together and knew their individual responsibilities. Most commented that something like this was bound to happen sooner or later so simply be prepared, be patient, and be ready when it presents itself.
"The crew involved was a great group. They are all unique -- young but very experienced," said Lt. Col. Ricky Rupp, 14 AS commander. "Of course there was a lot more pressure involved with this mission than normal but they knew their way around the AOR and each knew their role."
This was the first time the 14 AS has flown a distinguished visitor of this regard. Because of Charleston's capabilities, transporting DVs is a common mission for C-17 crews but few have had the experience of traveling with a vice president.
Capt. Scott Wiederholt, 14 AS pilot and aircraft commander, said the crew was unaware of exactly who they were providing airlift support to until after the mission planning phase. When the news was revealed, the crew was honored they were chosen to fly the mission.
"It was a really unique experience because the squadron has never flown a DV mission like this where the secret service and military aids were so closely involved with the aircrew," said Captain Wiederholt.
Other members of the crew said there was no apprehension or uneasiness concerning their mission destinations such as Afghanistan.
"I wasn't worried about where we were headed because we had been there before and our goal was to make sure this mission, like all of our other missions, was a success," said Airman 1st Class Kristen Burger, a loadmaster from the 14 AS and one of the first to meet Cheney when he boarded the plane.
The entire crew, consisting of approximately 20 people including three Security Forces Ravens, communication operators, flight attendants, crew chiefs, etc., had a chance to briefly associate with the vice-president.
"The vice president was a real down-to-earth guy. He asked us about ourselves and spent several minutes talking with each member of the crew. I was very impressed with how personal he was with each of us," said Captain Wiederholt.
Colonel Rupp also mentioned that Cheney spent time with the crew in the cockpit chatting and posing with the crew so pictures could be taken.
Airlifting Vice President Cheney into Afghanistan is a prime example of the strategic affect that non-lethal airpower delivers, said Colonel Rupp.
"The C-17 moves troops, cargo, patients, is capable of dirt runway landings and has the ability to airdrop soldiers and equipment behind enemy lines," said Colonel Rupp. "And seamlessly, the C-17 can transition to a mission such as this where we're delivering our nation's leaders safely into hostile territory while strengthening foreign alliances and demonstrating the power our nation can project at will. We are the only country in the world with this capability, and the C-17 at Charleston AFB is the platform of choice."