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NEWS | June 24, 2015

Former commanders reflect on time with 17th AS

By Trisha Gallaway Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

With the inactivation ceremony date set for June 25, 2015, the 17th Airlift Squadron prepares to close its doors and former commanders are reflecting on their time at the helm of the first operational C-17 squadron.

Two of those commanders are Maj. Gen. (ret) Ron Ladnier, and Brig. Gen. Lenny Richoux, the current director of the Colonels Management Office in Washington D.C. 

Ladnier and Richoux both commanded the squadron during pivotal times in the 17th AS's history. Ladnier commanded the 17th when it stood up in 1993 as the first operational C-17 squadron. Richoux became the squadron's commander in 2006 and would take the squadron on its first deployment under the two Expeditionary Airlift Squadron concept.

During the early days of the 17th AS, Ladnier was charged with leading the initial C-17 cadre. 

"Our goal in 1993 when standing up of the very first operational C-17 squadron was to bring in aircrews with a cross-section of flying experience," he said. "We wanted to blend the best techniques and procedures from aircraft that supported the hybrid nature of the C-17's tactical and strategic mission.  Therefore, we included aircrews from the C-5, C-141, C-130, C-21, KC-10, KC-135 and even the B-52."

The squadron worked through issues such as the location for mission pre-briefs, the number of parachutes to be put on the aircraft and how to prepare crews for alert missions.

"Much to my chagrin, I learned that standard briefing locations in [Air Mobility Command] covered the spectrum from squadron briefing rooms to base operations and out at the aircraft, depending on the aircraft type," Ladnier said.

Parachutes on the aircraft also became a topic of debate.

"Tanker aircraft at the time carried enough chutes for the entire crew," said Ladnier. "Plus each crewmember carried a helmet because air refueling was a 'risky maneuver' that might result in bailing out of the aircraft.  Evidently airlift aircrews didn't feel the same way because they carried no helmets and only enough chutes for those working around open paratroop doors." 

Additionally, there was the challenge of entering crews into pre-departure crewrest. 

"We should have considered [the pilot] had never sat alert because when we alerted [him] the next day, he asked, 'What do I do now?'  An exasperated operations NCO replied, 'Come into the squadron.'  Imagine the pilot's surprise when we launched him to the Middle East after he reported with only a headset and a checklist," said Ladnier.

By the end of the second operational year, Ladnier felt the cross-section of aviators had developed into an impressive initial cadre.

Fast forward 11 years and Richoux is now commanding the 17th and the squadron is supporting Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. They are on the verge of becoming the first squadron to test the two EAS concept.

"While attending the Squadron Commander's Course at Scott; Blaine Holt and Smoky Robinson were there too, briefing Gen. Duncan McNabb on a controversial proposal, known as the '2-EAS' C-17 Integral Squadron Deployment," said Richoux. "They asked me to sit in on the briefing and at the end, Gen. McNabb turned around and asked me if I was ready to take the 17th on the first trial run of the
concept.  I silently shook my head affirmatively and stammered through a 'yes sir."

The next day, Richoux called back home to the squadron where he held a Commander's Call over the phone. He informed the squadron that in less than two months the entire squadron would depart Charleston as one to their deployment location and "set the stage for a new, more stable, way of operating in the AOR."

With the news of a deployment coming, the squadron's directors of operations and loadmaster team got the Airmen ready to go and the wives got the families prepared.

"It was our strong DO's (Dan Hancock Casey Parnell and Muddy Waters) and oadmaster team (Bob Austin, Don Eagle, Rawn Hart and countless others) who literally mobilized the squadron -- checkrides, currency, wills, powers of attorney, flight suits, weapons, etc., all done in time.  It was my wife, Michele, and several other awesome spouses, like Tammy Janes and Rena Granholm, who made sure the families were ready." 

Once on the ground in the area of responsibility, the new EAS concept came with challenges.

"We arrived in May 2006 and returned by Labor Day," said Richoux. "In that time, we set several C-17 records for airdrop, airland and personnel movement.  The deployment was not without a few hiccups along the way.  But, as I always say, it's not what happens; it's what you do when something happens.  And the squadron dealt with every measure of adversity with pride, professionalism and passion.  That
deployment as the 816th EAS, was the highlight of my command.

After we returned and settled back into the routine of life in Charleston, the squadron continued to excel," said Richoux. "At the end of my time as commander, the squadron won the AFA's Schilling Award.  It was a bittersweet moment because we were still remembering Capt. Tommy Jackson, who had been TDY in support of a classified mission when he lost his life."

June 25, 2015 marks the day when the past and the present collide. The squadron will turn off the lights and close its doors. However nothing can erase the accomplishments of the men and women from the 17th Airlift Squadron.

"Although it will be hard to watch the 17th's flag folded on June 25th, I know that the Triple A Moving Company paved the way for the success of the C-17 program and all of the operational achievements that followed," Richoux said.