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Aircrews Experience Adventure, Stress

Aircrews Experience Adventure, Stress

By Airman 1st Class Andrew Svoboda, 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs.

Dover Air Force Base, Delaware -- (AFPN) March 19, 2002 -- "It’s always breakfast whenever you land," said Airman 1st Class Brian Castillo, a loadmaster from the 3rd Airlift Squadron here. "I’ve had breakfast four times in a row before."

Top to bottom: Tech. Sgt. Bradley Card, Airman 1st Class Jeff Pogatchnik, and Staff Sgt. James J. Callari, all from the 9th Airlift Squadron at Dover Air Force Base, Del., load their bags on a C-5 Galaxy prior to a mission.

Photo by Airman 1st Class Andrew Svoboda

Meal time is not the only part of life that changes for aircrew members. In the world of fliers, routine schedules do not exist. There are no eight-hour shifts, no weekends and very little consistency. And this is exactly why they love it.

"Many jobs are routine," said Tech. Sgt. Wes Askew, a 3rd AS loadmaster. "You do the same thing everyday. In our job, there’s the excitement of going somewhere different, eating something new and never knowing where you’re going to be."

A minimum crew on a C-5 Galaxy comprises two pilots, two flight engineers and two loadmasters. These crewmembers are on alert 24 hours a day, and once they receive the call, they have one hour to show up at the squadron, packed and ready to go anywhere in the world.

On C-5s, crewmembers do not usually fly as "hard crews," meaning the same people do not always fly together, but that does not mean they are not close. Fliers are a tight community and when crews are flying, they are working and living together.

"We have to trust each other with our lives," Castillo said. "Once we’re in the air, we can’t be thinking about rank. We’re all each other’s right hand.

"On the road, no one goes out by themselves, we stay as a group," he said. "If we have confidence as a group, there are no barriers when we’re in the air."

When aircrews fly missions, this is called going "downrange." There are two main missions aircrews can get assigned. During a routine channel mission, a crew will go downrange for a set period of time with a fixed itinerary. For contingency missions, aircrews get sent to staging bases, and do not always know where they will be sent. They live at these bases for nearly a month, flying missions and returning to the stage base for crew rest.

"A lot of people think it’s vacation time, but once we’re in the stage, we’ve got 12 hours between flying time to sleep and eat," said Airman 1st Class Tyler Vaughn, a loadmaster from the 9th Airlift Squadron here. "Sometimes, if there are no planes going out for a couple days, we’ll be released from alert, but that all depends on the mission and situation."

Not always knowing where they are going makes packing a challenge for aircrews, said Maj. Mark Gaubert, a C-5 pilot from the 3rd AS.

An even bigger challenge for crewmembers, however, is maintaining a normal family life. With crews often gone between 15 and 20 days a month, many holidays, first days of school and soccer games are missed. The job cannot get done without family support, said Tech. Sgt. Don Finely, a flight engineer with the 3rd AS.

For Castillo, who at age 20 just recently married, the job was something both he and his wife had to consider before getting married.

"I asked her if she wanted to get into this lifestyle," he said. "There are many times I’ve been working and she’s been home with the kids with no relief, keeping the family straight. I am lucky to have a woman who will stand by me."

It takes a special person to put up with the lifestyle, Finely said.

"All the bad stuff happens when you’re flying," he said. "The car breaks, the kids get sick."

Askew said the best way to balance family time with work is to explain what you are doing and why it is important.

"I take my family into the squadron all the time," Askew said. "My son is very interested in airplanes, so I encourage that, and take him out and show him the planes.

"I’d do this job for free if they fed me," he said. "I live for flying. It’s a part of me and my wife understands that."

Despite the hardships, there are rewards of being part of an aircrew beyond visiting exotic cultures. Like all jobs in the Air Force, crewmembers get the satisfaction of knowing their job plays a key role in a larger mission. Crews here are supporting Operation Enduring Freedom as well as continuing humanitarian and presidential support missions, and Operations Northern and Southern Watch.

"September 11 made things a lot busier, and there’s more of an urgency (to missions)," Gaubert said. "Hopefully, what we’re doing now will make things right for our kids."

Finely added, "My son is in high school and is talking about going to the Air Force Academy. I’d like to see this war end before he goes."

Whether they’re sitting on the flightdeck at 35,000 feet, watching the Hale-Bopp Comet go over Africa, heading west and chasing a sunset for two hours, or returning to their families in the middle of the night after 26 hours of flying, the life of the aircrew is tough, they said, but a life they continue to choose.

(Courtesy of Air Mobility Command News Service) 

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).