Plans change as mission unfolds

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Francesca Popp
  • U.S. Air Forces in Europe Public Affairs
Friday started off like any other day: wake up, get ready, make the 15-mile drive to the base and go to the gym.

This particular Friday, about 10 minutes into my workout, I noticed a news ticker on CNN about the wildfires in Israel. I didn't think much of it, but thought how awful it was and recalled the recent wildfires in Russia.

That thought would change shortly after I arrived at work.

The deputy director came down to my section to say we might be supporting a joint U.S. European Command mission, with U.S. Air Forces in Europe assets providing airlift. She asked my supervisor if he could lead the public affairs team, made up of Air Force and Army journalists, photographers and broadcasters, since he went on a similar mission when the U.S. sent aid to Russia.

A few hours later, my supervisor gave me the news that I was going to be the office representative. "I know you'll knock this one out of the park," he told me.

Saying, "OK," I began to think of what I needed to do before going. I went home, packed my bags, took my four-legged child to a co-worker's house, and headed back to the office to plan and waited to learn more as the events rapidly unfolded.

As we waited, the 12-person joint public affairs/combat camera team arrived at the office and, together, we got the creative juices going. We planned how we were going to document and ensure publicity of this humanitarian effort.

Then it was go time. Nearly 30 hours after learning I was heading out the door, the fire retardant arrived at Ramstein and was loaded on a C-130J Hercules. By now, people in the social media realm were following us and what the U.S. was doing to assist a partner nation. The team was tweeting and facebooking the events and picked up more followers every minute.

Go and deliver. Within minutes after the relief supplies were loaded and secured on the aircraft, we were off to Israel. The word was sent out through social media channels and nearly six hours later we landed at Ben Curion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel. I was ready to tell the world. The tweet went out seconds after the aircraft wheels hit the pavement. We made history. The U.S. Air Forces in Europe aircraft I was aboardĀ became the first U.S. aircraft to deliver the much needed fire retardant.

Local media was on the ground covering the aircraft arrival and unload of the supplies. Flash, flash, flash. Cameramen were snapping photos as they walked to the aircraft to capture the crew and the aircraft delivering the supplies. Within minutes, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel addressed the media and said the aid was an "important demonstration of America's support for Israel and the Israeli people."

With that, the fire retardant was offloaded and put on flatbed trucks to go to a staging area near Haifa, Israel.

Our mission was complete. Some 48 hours or so after learning about the worst wildfires in Israel's history, everyone boarded the C-130J and headed home.

So, my Friday started out going to work and also looking forward to my weekend plans that included a spa trip and a Christmas market here in Germany.

Never did I imagine I would have an opportunity to support and document this historic joint humanitarian mission to provide relief to the Israeli wildfires.