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NEWS | June 18, 2013

Untold stories

By Lt. Col. Stewart Newton 16th Airlift Squadron commander

As the 16th Airlift Squadron nears the end of its deployment and tenure as the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, I've taken a little time to reflect and think about all the marvelous achievements these Airmen have accomplished. Many of the accomplishments these men and women have performed are headline-grabbing and worthy of awards, while most of these feats are never even mentioned in the archives of our mission histories. The feats I describe below may seem rather innocuous, but all of them contributed to successful mission accomplishment.

To date, the efforts of the Airmen of the 816th have resulted in more than 600 sorties, delivering more than 22 million pounds of cargo and airdropping more than 880,000 pounds of supplies to Forward Operating Bases. Most of these folks in the 816th don't realize just how much they have contributed to our nation's efforts and how heroic they have been. Together, these pilots, loadmasters, aviation resource managers, unit deployment managers, combat crew communications specialists, intelligence specialists and aircrew flight equipment specialists melded together into one team to deliver C-17 combat capability. The examples below are just a few of the outstanding demonstrations of dedication, problem-solving and unmatched resolve of the men and women of the 816th. I am extraordinarily proud to be a part of their Squadron squadron and part of their team.

Airman 1st Class Meghan Wendel is serving on her first deployment as an aircrew flight equipment specialist. She maintains our C-17 aircrew's helmets, night-vision devices and other survival-type equipment. On May 6, 2013, she expended the extra effort to make sure the mission was accomplished. Since some of our forces are geographically separated, and, oftentimes, the threat of insurgents is just too great for resupply via the road network or sometimes a road doesn't even exist. To ensure top-notch mission execution and to mitigate risk to the aircrew as well as Gen . William Fraser, United States Transportation Command commander, who was also on the flight to observe how a C-17 executes an aerial delivery to Forward Operating Bases in Afghanistan, Wendel volunteered to fly with the crew, meeting the senior officer at an en routea forward location. Wendel guaranteed mission success by ensuring the crew and the general were outfitted properly for the night's aerial delivery mission.

Twenty-six Container Delivery System bundles totaling more than 84,000 pounds of sustainment were airdropped from altitude onto a drop zone that evening. It went unnoticed to the rest of the world, and they'll never know her name, but Wendel's quiet efforts didn't go unnoticed by our Soldiers and Marines at the Forward Operating Base who received those much needed supplies.

Another story of the quiet professionals of the 816th is Capt. Patrick Ng and his aircrew. On one of his first sorties as a brand new aircraft commander, Ng had just taken an aircraft airborne when hazardous fumes began entering the flight deck from the aircraft's environmental system. His crew skillfully recovered a $200 million asset while wearing oxygen masks and smoke goggles, which is something even the most seasoned aviator would have difficulty doing.

On another more recent sortie, he flew with one of the world's worst C-17 copilots, who happens to be me (me) and had another environmental system malfunction, resulting in recovering the aircraft to a divert airfield. Ng is an extraordinary young man and a leader you can count on under pressure. I know he will continue to set the example for generations of future military aviators to come.

To facilitate uploads and downloads at downrange locations, we often fly with two loadmasters. One is typically more senior, while the other has just begun learning the loadmaster trade. One of our youngest loadmasters, Senior Airman Pablo Aguilar, stepped into the role of the much more seasoned loadmaster when his instructor loadmaster became sick just prior to a scheduled mission. Not only did Aguilar fly multiple legs as a single loadmaster, but he delivered 33 pallets, two C-130 engines, and 1,450 pounds of lifesaving blood. Impressive - yes. But Aguilar was only getting started. On the final leg of the day, as a single loadmaster, Aguilar shined as a truly professional Airman. Unscheduled, Aguilar's mission performed a Dignified Transfer, the most honorable and humbling mission an aircrew performs as we are returning home our nation's finest - those fallen in battle. Aguilar performed exceptionally well and his professionalism was exemplary.

Capt. Mary Ashley Stanton was alerted on her second mission in command as an aircraft commander to fly a standard cargo mission to Bagram Air Base . As her crew was en route to Bagram, their mission changed to an aeromedical mission where they would be carrying a critical-care patient with eight aeromedical personnel from Bagram to Ramstein Air Base, Germany. The crew was able to turn the aircraft into a flying intensive care unit and successfully execute this difficult mission. Once again, these are the quiet professionals operating and supporting C-17 combat airlift operations.

There are literally hundreds of stories of our stellar aircrews or support personnel executing their mission quietly and flawlessly, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention our fellow deployed mission hackers. These C-17s would not even get to leave the chocks if not for the superb work of the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron (the Mighty Ocho). These folks are the fantastic maintainers and aerial port personnel, many deployed from JB Charleston, that quite simply get the job done. When our aircrews get to the jet, the Ocho has the jet fueled, loaded with cargo and ready to push engine start buttons so the C-17 can get moving. It's not very easy work turning wrenches on aircraft or pushing 9,000 pound pallets around in 110 degree heat for hours on end; however, the men and women of the Ocho make it look easy every day.

The 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron's mission is pushing the grey metal that is the C-17 to downrange locations, thereby delivering war- winning supplies. These folks do it seeking no reward other than the feeling of extraordinary teamwork and the thrill of mission accomplishment. Despite their youth, the 816th is performing like a well-oiled machine.

One day when I leave the C-17 community, I will know it is in fantastic hands. It has been one of the proudest moments in my career to see these young men and women execute their trade. We can all learn a lesson from the quiet professionalism they exhibit. Whatever your unit is, take pride in it and take pride in executing your mission. Even the stories that will never be told contribute immensely to the teamwork that is required for mission success.