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NEWS | July 31, 2015

JB Charleston aircrews transport SECDEF to Middle East

By Capt. Brian Walker, USAF 437th Airlift Wing

Members of the 437th Airlift Wing and the 315th Airlift Wing recently transported Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to the Middle East to meet with regional leaders.

Twenty-two aircrew members from Joint Base Charleston, including many currently deployed to  undisclosed locations, participated in the  trip which took Secretary Carter to Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. During the week-long visit,  Carter met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nayef, and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to discuss international security concerns.

This mission was the first time many of the aircrew had transported a senior level government official.

"It was amazing to be an active participant in the government's international relations," said 1st Lt. Justin Cherry, a 16th Airlift Squadron co-pilot on one of the C-17s. "It's great to be able to say 'I helped improve our diplomatic relations with many of the U.S. government's key allies."

Transportation of senior government leaders requires significant coordination and is by no means a routine mission. Aircrew and mission planners were required to work quickly to organize the secretary's visit since the trip was announced less than one week prior to his departure.

"We had to scramble to put this mission together," said Maj. Matt Garcia, a member of the 437th Airlift Wing's Commander's Action Group and the mission commander for Carter's trip. "Such a high visibility [distinguished visitor] movement like this usually is planned weeks in advance and we had only a few days.  In the end, our aircrew really pulled together and worked to ensure our leaders got to where they were needed."

Such hard work does not go unrecognized. As a thank you for their hard work, Carter presented each aircrew member with his personal coin, a significant honor for members in the military. Colonel Jimmy Canlas, the 437th Airlift Wing vice commander echoed the SECDEF's praise.

"I am incredibly proud of the job well done by our men and women of the 437th Airlift Wing and our 315th Airlift Wing partners," he said. "It was a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to transport Secretary Carter and our Airmen performed brilliantly."