February 28, 2017 (by 2nd Lt. Jen Pierce) - As the C-130’s engines roared to life one by one, a profound stillness settled over those watching from the ground. This was a moment of reflection; the realization of all the hard work, extra hours, and tenacity that went into getting the 103rd Airlift Wing to this point.
Leadership from the 103rd AW and Connecticut National Guard stand in a row, awaiting the take-off of the 103rd's C-130 Hercules carrying deployers at Bradley ANGB, on February 22, 2017. [ANG photo by 2nd Lt. Jen Pierce]
Cleared for take-off, the Herc began its slow roll down the runway, whipping gusts of wind behind its massive propellers, observers shielding their eyes from kicked up dust and ice. The hulking mass of an airplane, weighted down by pallets and Airmen, finally rose, solemn and heavy into the chilly morning air. Flying directly overhead those gathered on the flight line, waves and cheers rose up to the plane in one final farewell. This landmark day is the commencement of the 103rd Airlift Wing's first large-scale deployment with the C-130H Hercules.
"As I watched the first Connecticut Air National Guard C-130 depart for the AOR on that historic morning in February, I was really struck by the significance of the moment and the thought that it represented so much more than just "four fans of freedom" taxiing around Bradley airport—it was the culmination of so many years of hard work by so many outstanding people," said Col. Frank Detorie, 103rd Airlift Wing commander.
I have long held that all of the hard work and turmoil over the last several years here will not be validated by arriving at arbitrary dates on the calendar or by moving into new facilities. Instead, it will be our ability to successfully deploy to the AOR, to effectively employ while we are there, and then to safely redeploy all of our Airmen home—this is what will define our success in converting the 103rd to the world's finest tactical airlift wing, said Detorie.
The recognition of the wing's success in deploying with the C-130 is felt base wide. Just a few short hours earlier, deploying Airmen from the 103rd Maintenance Squadron waited in the hangar with their families. Emotions ran high as they spent a few last moments with their loved ones before they would board the C-130 that would fly them to their deployments in the Middle East.
"We are a part of history," said Master Sgt. Jonas Concepcion, production superintendent for the 103rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, just before departing for his third deployment with the Air National Guard.
This is the first time we are deploying with the C-130 organically; I keep telling my maintainers that this is history in the making for us and it's been a great journey, said Concepcion.
"Every maintainer in this maintenance group has poured their heart and soul into getting these airplanes ready. It's been a monumental task. Not only have we had to get personnel ready, we've had to get the iron ready," Concepcion said.
These last several months, they've put in extra hours and worked through several weekends in order to make this mission happen. It's kind of hard to put into words all that they've done. When we thought it was too much, these maintainers stepped up and made everything happen. We've also had support from agencies across the wing, from supply getting parts and working the weekends with us, to POL getting us fueled through weekends, and security forces training our personnel and getting us ready. It's just been an extraordinary effort, said Concepcion.
Extraordinary effort, however, seems to be the status quo for the 103rd Airlift Wing.
Even though this is our first deployment with this specific airframe, I believe it's something we are familiar with in regards to airframe conversions, said Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Boulanger, a guidance and control systems craftsmen with the 103rd Maintenance Group.
We are all about being flexible and we do the best we can with what we have. We've had the good fortune of being placed at the top with a lot of our ratings; just proof that we can be given a challenge and we are able to come together as a team, said Boulanger.
As the bus rolled up to the hangar for transport, deployers said goodbye to their families one last time, then boarded and headed out to the flight line where Airmen from the 103rd Operations Group were readying the plane, reviewing checklists, and preparing for the milestone take-off. The bus stopped just short of the plane and, as everyone exited the bus, commanders, first sergeants, and superintendents were all there to bid the 103rd Airmen farewell. This culmination of effort by all was distinctly evident as the Airmen climbed into the hulking C-130—supplies and equipment packed in tight as they maneuvered around pallets to find a seat for the long journey ahead.
"I have spent much of the last year talking about this deployment as the true benchmark for this wing's success in converting to the C-130 mission," said Detorie. "Now that this important milestone is finally upon us, the excitement on the base seems almost palpable. As we entered the final stages of deployment preparation, the efforts I saw across the base to ensure that our people were trained and our airplanes were ready have been nothing short of heroic. The Flying Yankees are back in the fight! I sincerely hope that you all can appreciate the significance of what you have achieved," Detorie said.