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NEWS | Aug. 6, 2013

Before the last C-17: Carrying the load

By Airman 1st Class Tom Brading Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

(Editor's Note: For more than 20 years, the C-17 Globemaster III has delivered rapid air mobility at a moment's notice all around the world. With the last U.S. Air Force C-17 scheduled to roll off the Boeing assembly line Sept. 12, 2013, we look back on the continuing impact this signature Charleston aircraft makes to the United States Air Force through our series, "Before the last C-17.")

The C-17 Globemaster III combines strategic and tactical airlift into one wide-body aircraft, capable of short takeoffs and landings from remote locations. It is also able to carry everything from paratroopers, fallen heroes, combat material and even the President of the United States.
Airdrops and assault landings into combat zones may be an essential element that sets the C-17 ahead of the pack, but without skilled Airmen doing their job, the aircraft would not have seen the levels of success it has achieved through the years.

One of those professions is the aircraft loadmasters.

"Like many loadmasters, when I turn on the news and see conflicts or disasters unfolding in the world; I think to myself, 'looks like I'll be leaving soon,'" said Master Sgt. Aaron Avery, 16th Airlift Squadron standards and evaluations superintendent.

Aircraft loadmasters, like Avery, ensure contents of the aircraft, whether it is passengers or cargo, arrive safely at their destination. Their intended destinations may be in every remote corner of the world - because where the C-17 Globemaster III goes, the loadmasters go.

And yet, despite the grim pictures seen on the news, it is undeniable that when airlift support is needed, the C-17 Globemaster III and its crew step up to the plate. For Avery, and the U.S. Air Force, those conflicts have varied throughout the years, from combat to humanitarian efforts.

"One of my first missions as a young loadmaster was the Kosovo Crisis of 1999," said Avery. "Our aircrew was moving M1 tanks into Albania onto small runways and flying out in under 15 minutes to get more. We did this on a consistent rotation throughout the coming days. It was definitely a thrill."

For Avery, the early missions were a rite of passage into an airlift community that also provided the comfort of family. Airlift is a family tradition and runs in Avery's blood. A Charleston, S.C. native, his father was a pilot for years with the 315th Airlift Wing at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C.

"As a kid, I was fascinated by my dad," said Avery. "Just the idea of being a part of such a rich tradition, something bigger than me, and having the honor to experience the entire world was all I wanted."

Avery has been to more than 130 countries around the world, and has been involved in combat missions in Southwest Asia as well as humanitarian efforts in Haiti. But, for many aircrew members, all the missions they fly are memorable.

"You don't want to be on the "routine" mission that isn't memorable," said Capt. Paul Guenther, 16th AS C-17 pilot. "Every mission I'm part of sticks out in my thoughts. For example, I'll always remember every dignified transfer. I'll also remember the medevac missions when I had wounded warriors on board that trusted me to get them to the additional medical help they needed, or flying into combat zones all day with cargo to aid the warfighter downrange. Being a part of missions that have a direct impact on our fighting forces or civilians in need of help will always stick out, because I'm honored to see the results of our airlift mission."

Guenther dedicated the first 10 years of his career as an enlisted aircraft loadmaster before commissioning as an officer. However, when it came time to select the aircraft he hoped to pilot he could only think of one.

"The unique capabilities of the C-17 are what originally drew me toward it," said Guenther. "I've been heavily involved in the C-17 community since I became an Airman 14 year ago, from my time as a loadmaster, then a loadmaster instructor, to today as a pilot. It's always been the top of the line, and will continue to be the best."

Loadmasters perform their duties by mathematically arranging cargo, among many other tasks, so the plane can fly safely. They also secure the cargo with chains and straps to prevent any movement while in flight.

"We rely on each other for safety," said Guenther. "It's important that I fly the aircraft to its location safely, but without the loadmasters securing the cargo we're flying, we could never accomplish this. We work together and keep each other safe."

Guenther continued, "A lot of times I'm the oldest guy flying, and I'm in my early 30s. Most Airmen I work with when I fly are younger, an average age of about 26, and their performance is a real testament to those Airmen as skilled professionals."

JB Charleston is scheduled to receive its final C-17 Sept. 12, 2013, as Boeing completes work on the U.S. Air Force's last Globemaster. The first C-17 to enter the Air Force's inventory arrived at Charleston Air Force Base in June 1993. The C-17 is capable of rapid strategic delivery of troops and all types of cargo to main operating bases or directly to forward bases in the deployment area.