JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
With the announcement of former South African President Nelson Mandela's death Dec. 5, 2013, tens of thousands of people, including President Barack Obama, began making plans to attend his memorial service.
Within hours of Mandela's passing, the 437th and 315th Airlift Wings, with support from the 628th Air Base Wing, initiated an impressive display of rapid global mobility to provide transportation for the POTUS.
A total of 10 crews on five separate C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, carrying more than 130,000 pounds of cargo with 14 Airmen from Joint Base Charleston, were sent to four overseas locations to include the Ascension Islands, Puerto Rico, South Africa and Senegal to enable en-route support of the President's travel.
"We received the call from Air Mobility Command on Dec. 5 that Nelson Mandela had passed away and to get 14 Airmen ready for a presidential support mission as soon as possible," said Maj. Michael Epper, 628th Force Support Squadron operations officer. "The Installation Personnel Readiness office began immediately preparing to deploy the 14 Airmen for a presidential support mission."
The IPR office needed the respective Unit Deployment Managers to have all 14 Airmen medically qualified with the proper shots as well as Combatant Commanders requirements in less than 24-hours . a major hurdle.
On the other side of the base, as Epper was receiving the call to prepare 14 Airmen for transporting the POTUS, 1st Lt. Jordan Passmore, 628th Logistics Readiness Squadron installation deployment officer, was receiving a similar call informing him to not only make sure the 14 Airmen would be ready to go, but he also needed to locate the aircraft to perform the mission as well as coordinate and prepare the delivery of more than 130,000 pounds of cargo to those aircraft.
"Once the call came through our office, everything went into overdrive," said Passmore. "I had a total of 10 Airmen working in two teams of five, covering 12-hour shifts for 72 hours straight, troubleshooting any issues with getting the aircraft identified, cargo organized and in place, as well as making sure the 14 Airmen flying the mission would have orders in hand when the mission was ready to kick-off."
Less than 24 hours after the call was made to Epper, all 14 Airmen were cleared to fly with orders in hand.
"We had to work with two combatant commanders since some of our Airmen would be flying into United States Southern Command and some into United States Africa Command," said Epper. "There were several little items we needed to get done before the Airmen could leave, but with a great support team from the 628th Force Support Squadron and 628th Air Base Wing personnel it went smoothly."
With the Airmen's orders squared away, all that needed to be done was loading the POTUS mission equipment.
"Once the sequence of events were posted, and the cargo deployment facility was spun up, the 'Port Dawg's' went into action," said 2nd Lt. Danielle Atkins, 437th Aerial Port Squadron cargo operations flight commanders.
Once the entire POTUS cargo arrived from several Air Force bases around the country to JB Charleston, the aircraft load was in-checked and the joint inspection began. Joint inspections are conducted by the aerial port personnel along with the unit owning the equipment. This is an important responsibility to ensure the cargo is airworthy and safe for flight.
"All units did an excellent job taking care of any issues on the spot in order to keep the mission on track," said Atkins. "The mission was a huge success because 'Team Charleston' made it happen. It truly took a unified effort to get the necessary cargo and passengers deployed as safely, reliably and precisely as possible."
On schedule, the morning of Dec. 8, 2013, five C-17's taxied down the runway with 130,000 pounds of POTUS mission equipment aboard, as well as 14 Airmen from JB Charleston and five from Pope Army Airfield headed to the four overseas locations.
"What an amazing capability to get a tasking and 48-hours later have the cargo and passengers in place heading to their locations without missing a beat," said Passmore.
While the cargo and personnel for the five C-17s were prepared for the overseas locations, four more aircrews from JB Charleston traveled to two locations overseas ahead of them to begin setting up pre-positioning stages.
The aircrew members were alerted on Dec. 6 and left JB Charleston Dec. 7, headed to the pre-positioning stages ahead of the cargo being assembled.
"When we landed at the pre-positioning stages we immediately went to sleep to get enough crew rest, so that when the cargo arrived from state side we could fly it into South Africa," said Capt. Christopher McGarvey, 437th AW, 16th Airlift Squadron C-17 pilot. "The next morning we boarded the aircraft with the POTUS mission equipment that had just arrived, had the aircraft refueled and headed to South Africa."
In total, 10 crews, consisting of more than 60 Airmen from JB Charleston, were tasked with moving POTUS equipment in and out of South Africa.
"The success of this mission speaks volumes to the flexibility of the Airmen here and their ability to perform rapid global mobility anytime, anywhere," said Col. Darren Hartford, 437th AW commander.
"To be able to accomplish this unique mission on such short notice is phenomenal," said Col. Jeffrey DeVore, Joint Base Charleston commander. "The Airmen, Sailors and Civilians here at JB Charleston are true professionals, and will continue to lead the way in providing world class support."