Squadron of the Month: Joint Base Charleston team that flies, loads C-17s

Published: Jul. 5, 2023 at 6:50 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 5, 2023 at 7:29 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - In the air or on the ground, the men and women in the 16th Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Charleston are in charge of getting equipment and materials to bases across the world.

Joint Base Charleston has dozens of C-17′s. They’re Globemaster III’s, the Air Force’s Premier Mobility Platform.

“It’s a cargo airplane that flies worldwide missions all around the world so we can fly up to 24-hour days and we’re just very busy,” Ken Di Giovanni, an instructor pilot for the 16th Airlift Squadron, says.

There are 169 members in the 16th Airlift and, because JBC has one of the highest numbers of C-17′s, they’re called on a lot.

“It seems really big but thanks to our electronic flight controls, it’s really light to fly and it’s honestly a pretty easy jet to fly,” Benjamin See explains about flying the C-17. “There are tens and tens of steps that we do in our initial preflight. Basically what we do is test every system. On the overhead panel everything is laid out into environmentals, hydraulics, fuels, flight controls, electrics. We pretty much test every single system when we step on a jet before we can take off.”

The 16th Airlift was directly involved with the evacuation of refugees and Americans in Afghanistan in 2021.

“The Afghanistan retrograde in 2021 that was a big lift for us,” Di Giovanni says. “We did majority of the non-combatant evacuations out of there.”

“I will say a lot of the crews that went out there were overworked but they still executed the mission,” See says. “We’re limited to a 24-hour duty day and people were pushing that to where they were taking off at hour one and landing at hour 23:59. They were able to evacuate over 120,000 refugees because of that and just the mindset and the result that all those crews had to make that mission happen. Some of them had very challenging missions and very scary missions and they were able to do it.”

They’re also helping in the continued various efforts in support of Ukraine.

In order to respond to missions on a moment’s notice, it takes a lot of planning and practice. The Operations Flight handles all of the scheduling for local missions and authorizes all of the flights.

“We fly on flight orders and they check and make sure that we’re all current and able to fly,” See explains. “We have a scheduler for the pilots scheduler for the loadmasters as well as an assistant directive operations that signs all the orders and verifies everything. They are on call 24/7 and anytime a mission drops down, even if it’s at midnight on a Saturday night, they will get a call and they will have to build a crew to go fly.”

The pilots get everything from point A to B, but the Loadmasters own the back of the jet.

“A lot goes into that...loading we have support from other squadrons on the base,” Brianna Ralston, a Loadmaster, explains. “They’re weighing it beforehand. We don’t do it ourselves. When it comes out to the jet it’s already weighed. We know the weights and the heights and the limitations of stuff and then whenever it comes to us we run our own calculations - make sure it’ll fit on the aircraft in our limitations. With all the different numbers - weight, height and a bunch of things that goes into it to make sure we’re in our limitations for the aircraft to take off.”

Think of it like a much larger, way more complicated game of Tetris.

“It can be pretty intimidating sometimes because a lot of it’s pretty big stuff and being held to the floor by chains,” Emma Duffany, another Loadmaster, explains. “Sometimes it’s a little bit nerve-wracking but it’s also pretty cool because we know so much about the Jet and we trust our pilots with how they fly that we know it’s gonna fly safe and we’re gonna get it ready to go.”

Typically for a mission there will be three pilots, which is an augmented crew, which allows them to fly anywhere from 18 to 24-hour days. Two loadmasters are also on those flights. They can also fly basic with just two pilots and one loadmaster. They also fly with a crew chief, sometimes two, who are maintaining and taking care of the jet.

“I would say the most intimidating thing about flying the C-17 is the diverse mission set that we have,” See says. “There are times when we go fly a mission and we’ve never been to the location before, we’ve never done that sort of movement before. Especially with the loadmasters, there’s a lot of cargo that we will load that they may have never loaded before. And it all comes down to the training they put them through. For us, if we’ve never been to an airfield before, we do a lot of studying especially at cruise to get over there. And thankfully with the amount of experience on the squadron, there’s always a safe way to do it.”

Another big role of the 16th Airlift Squadron is Humanitarian aid with any type of major world events. Hurricane Relief, Typhoon Relief, Earthquake Relief or anything of that nature, the 16th Airlift are able to respond and bring folks who are affected much-needed supplies.