Professional Airlift: A Team Sport

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jeremy Ponn
  • Commander, 76th Airlift Squadron

Just before 1 a.m. (7 p.m. EDT) on Saturday, Oct. 13, a Ramstein-assigned C-37 delivered Andrew Brunson to his first stop on a return trip to the United States. Brunson, a U.S. pastor who lived and ministered in Turkey, had been held by the Turkish judiciary for two years following the attempted coup in 2016.


The White House-directed mission, executed on short notice just hours after initial notification, flawlessly demonstrated the 86th Airlift Wing’s ability to provide professional airlift to any country, any time, from the pavement up. Most importantly, it showcased that our airlift mission is truly a team sport.


All too often, we collectively get lost in the daily grind of our day-to-day mission, and as the adage goes, it is hard to see the forest for the trees. While I’m sure this summary may omit an outstanding contributor to the incredibly talented team that made this mission happen, allow me to highlight a few ways in which Ramstein Airmen touched our ability to repatriate Pastor Brunson.


The notification began at 1:01 a.m. via telephones and networks maintained by 86th Communications Squadron personnel. Initially, details were sparse and required transfer of original tasking discussions to secure internet protocol network traffic – another 86th CS touchpoint. As details unfolded, members of a 76th Airlift Squadron crew who were scheduled to complete a local training sortie were reassigned to support the mission. As initial details of the pickup location were passed to the 86th Operations Group, 86th Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels personnel were alerted to increase the fuel load on the aircraft to allow the crew to fly to and from Turkey without the need to refuel on the ground, expediting Pastor Brunson’s return.


Members of the 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron and the 86th Medical Group prepared to provide Pastor Brunson with medical care, to include the last-minute addition of a flight surgeon and nurse to the growing crew from the 76th AS. The 86th Operations Support Squadron provided time-sensitive intelligence and facilitated arming of aircrew members that were flying into an unknown political situation. 76th AS flight attendants quickly rushed to the DECA Commissary to shop and prep Pastor Brunson’s first meal on American “soil” – the C-37 aircraft. Commissary personnel opened dedicated lanes to allow the crew to quickly check out and move on to preparing meals for Pastor Brunson and his wife.


The crew was supported by a host of entities in the 86th OG, who professionally worked diplomatic clearance issues with 86th OSS and 603rd Air Mobility Division personnel. The crew stepped to the jet and prepared to launch off airfield surfaces maintained by 86th Civil Engineer Group personnel. Simultaneously, another crew was placed in crew rest to transfer Pastor Brunson back to the U.S. after a planned short refueling stop (86th LRS again) and crew change, facilitated by transient alert contract personnel.


As is often the case with short notice missions, things changed. Plans were adjusted for a possible stay of a few days at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, supported by 86th MDG personnel and a joint force of caregivers just up the hill. Ultimately, the decision was made to execute a short overnight stay, enabled by Force Support Squadron personnel and the 86th AW Protocol office. 86th Security Forces defenders secured the ramp and provided escort for U.S. State Department personnel who arrived from all over Germany to welcome Pastor Brunson. 86th OSS personnel safely and efficiently guided the aircraft to an approach at Ramstein in the dead of night with fog rolling into the airfield – to instrument landing systems maintained by their personnel and powered by the 86th CEG. Again the 86th LRS touched the mission, providing transportation for Pastor Brunson and his wife from the flight line to the hotel in a bus professionally maintained by 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron personnel.


Overnight, while Pastor Brunson slept, members of the 86th Maintenance Group completed inspections on the jet, preparing it for the alert crew the next morning. That crew, unable to prepare the 76th AS’s standard of exemplary service while in alert status, were helped by a host of additional 76th AS personnel who prepped food for the next day’s mission. At 5:45 a.m. the next morning, the crew was alerted while Pastor Brunson was provided with medical care by the 86th MDG. The jet departed at 9:11 a.m. arriving exactly on time at 12 p.m. EDT at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., where Pastor Brunson was greeted by members of the State Department and rushed to a meeting with President Donald Trump just two hours later.


So if you ever wonder how YOU contribute to the 86th Airlift Wing’s mission of Professional Airlift, remember this story. It takes a team, and the members of the 76th AS and I salute your support and dedication to our mission. Each one of you plays a part every day; remember that next time you’re looking at that task you do each day – they all matter. This team makes Professional Airlift happen.