Joint Base Charleston


The Company: Part III

By Lt. Col. Cassius Bentley | 15th Airlift Squadron commander | May 27, 2015

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- There is a picture in my office of a young man standing in front of a North American BT-9 aircraft.  The BT-9 was the primary trainer aircraft for Army Air Corps pilots who served  before and during World War II.  When I look at the picture, two things cross my mind.  First, I think about the young man in the picture.  Secondly, I think about the airplane and the  heroes who flew it during WWII.  After graduating from the BT-9, scores of young men in the Greatest Generation went on to Advanced Pilot training and, eventually, to flying aircraft such as the C-33, C-39 and C-47.  As proud members of the 15th Airlift Squadron, our squadron began traveling the globe and earning our nickname in December 1940. This year we will be celebrating our 75th anniversary. The Global Eagles, also known as "The Company," of today can trace our heritage back to the aircrews of the C-33, C-39 and C-47. 

Just as there were heroes from the original members of the "The Company," I have seen several young brave men and women that I would classify as heroes today.  The individual narratives highlighted below may not be on the same magnitude as those detailed in the history books but, I believe, if you focus on the individuals and their specific sacrifices, it is easily translatable to  hero status.  "The Company's" Maj. Aaron High recently left for a deployment.  This is Major High's second long-term deployment since returning to Charleston in February 2014.  Major High is a hero.  Not just because he is going to fly combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq but, more importantly, because he is a great father.  He and his wife, Traci, are proud parents of two very intelligent and funny boys named Max and Alex.  Both Max and Alex have a neuromuscular disease.  If you are ever honored to meet the boys, they will overwhelm you  with their charisma. Raising these two wonderful boys has its unique challenges and the Air Force life does not make it any easier. However, Aaron and Traci are doing a phenomenal job. Their boys are thriving despite any physical limitations. The High family are all heroes.

We also have Senior Airman Brandi Lopez. A couple weeks ago, I attended SrA Lopez's graduation from Airman Leadership School.  She is a hero.  It is not because she earned Distinguished Graduate at ALS, but because of the young woman she has become.  I had the honor to meet SrA Lopez's Brandi's father.  I really enjoy hearing people's stories about their backgrounds and families.  It was awesome to see her father beaming with pride as she walked across the stage to accept her award. SrA Lopez lost her mother when she was a teenager.  Now, she is a mother herself to one year old Isabella.  She is beyond impressive for a senior airman.  We are honored to have her in "The Company."

In December 2014, Capt. Matthew McCandless had the idea to create a program where underprivileged kids from Lambs Elementary went shopping with Global Eagles.  The "Shop with an Airman" program  raised $2,700 in two weeks enabling  18 kids the opportunity to meet Santa Claus and receive a special present.  Captain McCandless is a hero. It is not because he once got to fly with the squadron commander in a tough weather approach in the C-17, but because he has a heart of gold and because he took the initiative, following through to make a difference.  In "The Company," I see this all the time.  We have amazing Airmen who volunteer without being asked. Senior Airman Katherine Stanton is leading another squadron engagement on June 8, 2015 at the VA hospital.

Staff Sgt. Josh Nelson just left on a combat mission to Iraq.  He is a hero. It is simply because he is performing an action we ask our young crewmembers to execute all the time.  This primary core competency of delivering cargo and people for strategic objectives, whether combat or humanitarian, should never be taken for granted.  It is a tough job.  We also ask a lot from Sergeant Nelson when he returns home. We are always busy in the squadron. It can be hard to give our Airmen predictability and regular hours when drop-down missions complicate  efforts to shape a normal schedule.  Recently, during a critical time, Sergeant Nelson single-handedly ran the training shop for both pilots and loadmasters.  He had to work some big forecasts for next year's formal training school positions and develop a plan for some drop-down school slots. He hit it out of the park. With young enlisted members and leaders like Sergeant Nelson, the current and impending force reduction measures become more manageable.

Now, back to the picture. That young man, who I called Papa, is my biggest hero. Although, it would make a great story, my grandfather never became a pilot.  In fact, he only served a few months in the Army before getting medically disqualified.  I am not sure why my family has a picture of him in his service dress uniform in front of an airplane. But, I do know he raised eight children with my grandmother and he worked harder than any person I have ever known. After 10 to 12 hour days finishing driveways, sidewalks and basements in the hot Kentucky sun as a concrete finisher, he would come home and tend the garden.  He had his flaws.  He drank and gambled at the Moose Lodge on occasion but to me, he was perfect.  I spent half my youth at his house.  He always answered his door and, no matter who was there, he always offered to help.  As I get older, I hope to be half the man that he was. I tell his story for one reason: Perspective.  For me, my main goal at the end of the day is to be my two sons' hero, just like my grandfather was to me. 

As a commander, it is an honor working for the Airmen I serve. With the leadership and assistance from Lt. Col. Todd Markwart, Chief Master Sgt. Mike Cumberland, the First Shirt, Master Sgt. Mark O'Brien, and many others, we have done a pretty good job serving our Airmen.  But, we can do better.  General Welsh held a virtual town hall on May 21 and mentioned that the operational tasks such as taking on ISIS and providing relief (e.g., Nepal earthquake) are not going away. Paraphrasing, he stated that what frustrates our Airmen is the little stuff that keeps us at work longer than it should.  We should be able to "have a life and still do great work." Some days, we may have to cover for each other to allow others to attend the little league ballgames or other significant life events.  For my last lap in command of "The Company," we will identify and minimize the little stuff and find more ways to give our Airmen back their time.  We owe them the effort ... because simply stated ... they are all heroes.

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