By Michael Jones
Charleston Daily Mail
Sept. 6, 2005
SAN ANTONIO, Texas - After a grueling mission to evacuate dozens of critical patients our of New Orleans, the crew of EVAC 306 from the 130th Airlift Wing received word it was going home today.
The flight of the West Virginia Air National Guard C-130 left Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio this morning and headed to Houston to airlift supplies to Louisiana.
Then it was back to Charleston for a much-needed break.
The past several days have been hectic for the 130th, which has endured numerous itinerary changes. Scheduling conflicts on the ground have forced numerous delays, but the crew has worked hard to overcome those problems.
This is nothing new for the 130th. While most people have 9-to-5 jobs, the members of the Air Guard don't have a set work schedule. During the five-day operation, the crew worked a 10-hour shift, 12-hour shift, two 16-hour shifts and an 18-hour shift.
Their hour-by-hour lives are frustrating and exciting all at the same time, they say.
"I would kind of like to know where we're going and when we're going, but in our type of job, you don't get that," said 1st Lt. Tim Street, the flight's navigator. "You have to be able to change as it goes and adapt."
Street, who has spent more than 11 years in the Guard, expects to be deployed to Afghanistan in the coming weeks.
"It is kind of frustrating when you don't know what will happen and when you'll do (missions), but you get used to it," Street said. "It keeps it interesting and keeps you on your toes, but I enjoy it."Many crew members expected to stay longer than Monday and were surprised to leave just one day after the original departure date.
"I didn't know if we would be here two days or two weeks," he said.
A perfect example of the changing schedule occurred Sunday when the 130th expected to make three trips to New Orleans. After the initial trip, it was clear they would not need to return because the sickest patients had been moved.
Just a day earlier, the crew had to request a waiver to extend their hours so the could evacuate more survivors. Without that extension, their mission would not have been able to move 24 critically ill patients needing immediate assistance.
"That's the name of the game with the C-130 crew," said 1st Lt. Todd Perry, the crew's co-pilot. "As long as you're flexible, it works so much easier for the user."
Many feel the length of any mission is not as troublesome as the question mark of the return date. Some say they do not mind serving for long periods but wish they could tell their families when they are coming back.
Perry, who is from Hico in Fayette County, said that has been especially tough on his wife, who has had to oversee the construction of their new hours while he has been gone.
"It is hard because you're not sure when you're 100 percent positive when you'll be home," he said. "You can't tell your wife a certain date."
He will return to his job as a State Police trooper in South Charleston in mid-October.
But there is always the excitement of traveling to unexpected places and not being completely tied to a schedule.
Maj. Kyle Adams, the aircraft commander, sees positives and negatives to his job as a pilot for both the U.S. Air Force and Delta Airlines. His roles as a commercial pilot is much different because it involves trying to meet strict schedules.
"On one hand, I like the variety the military give yous," he said. "On the other hand, I like the consistency of the airline."
But all of the crew from the 130th understands there area factors they cannot control. They waited in line for more than four hours on the Louis Armstrong International Airport tarmac until it was their turn to load the critical patients.
Understandably, the rushed evacuation created many problems for rescue workers. Still, Adams said a good game plan is most important for a successful mission.
"Perfect planning prevents poor performance," he said, spouting a line he learned in training.
"I hate to waste the time and daylight of loading problems," Adams said. "I can take care of pre-mission stuff, but I hate to burn time."
As the crew makes its final rescue flight of the mission, most are torn between the desire to see their families again and the satisfaction of helping those in need.
"It's bittersweet," Adams said. "I feel good with what we did, but I wish we could help more. But we've got to follow orders."
The C-130 crew that left last Thursday is expected to arrive in Charleston this afternoon. There has been no word of if, or when, a return trip to New Orleans will be scheduled.
6 months ago