On hope … and trust … oh, and perseverance!

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. John Habbestad, 9th Airlift Squadron commander (Pelican) & Chief Master Sgt. Steven Foley, 9th Airlift Squadron chief enlisted manager (another Pelican)

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- Messages of hope … trust… perseverance … sometimes, all three … Now, those are great. Often though, we get only a taste and sometimes, none of these qualities when sharing a story about a trip to the commissary or maybe that rash that’s been bugging you for a couple weeks. That’s okay. Not every message needs to be an epic with eternal durability. 

This message’s intent is to provide a perspective on what it takes to move our jets nowadays, how the events of 2020 have influenced life on the road, and pass some thanks to the fantastic community that supports us.

Living near Dover Air Force Base provides many unique benefits. For one, we’re close to our nation’s capital without the traffic mess. We enjoy the proximity to the beaches. We can run to Philly for the afternoon for a day of shopping or to pick up Gampy and Memaw and be home in time to enjoy a movie at home. Most importantly, however, we have the fortune to frequently witness an engineering marvel gracefully soar the skies above us … the mighty C-5 Super Galaxy.

The graceful gray silhouette you see above you could be circling Dover for a few hours on a training sortie or climbing toward the Atlantic for a night ocean crossing on a weeks-long mission. In it, a baker’s dozen of highly skilled (usually) crewmembers working together in our apartment building-sized beast … putting fires out (not usually), planning for the next touch-and-go or baking hot pockets. No matter what, it always requires persistence, trust and a little hope from these professionals inside and out of the jet that make moving the mission happen. 

These C-5 crews are comprised of pilots (pulling/pushing sticks and buttons up front), flight engineers (systems expert … tell the pilots what the heck is really going on), loadmasters (in charge of the cargo … the only reason we exist) and flying crew chiefs (keep us moving/limping along: the experts at catching curveballs, making magic happen and allowing us to get where the cargo needs to go). In addition to the folks on the airplane, we have thousands of maintainers, logisticians, support specialists and health professionals that contribute to the mission. Together, our airplane moves through the mobility system lifting the “stuff” that keeps our defense machine going. 

The size of the crew, the airplane and the support machine behind it present an enormous task of moving this mobility machine along on any given “normal” day.

… then 2020 happened … wow.

If it looks like the average Pelican (our fantastically appropriate moniker for a Dover C-5 operator) is a little tired, you’re right … they are. We would think that the entire planet is a little tired by now. 2020 has proven to be one for the record books. In January, we began this tumultuous journey with heightened tensions with Iran and a very high operations tempo. In March, the world was flipped upside down. Hugs and kisses were replaced with fist bumps and masks. In-person celebrations and memorial services were replaced with inferior digital substitutions for companionship and comradery.

Operations, though, moved along. While our world transitioned through evolving health guidelines and commercial air travel was stymied, Air Mobility Command continued to forge ahead in supporting the warfighter.  Today, missions continue to push cargo to all corners of the planet. The significance of these missions and the aid they provide cannot be overstated.

From munitions to medical equipment and special operators to health care staff, AMC missions move the people, tools and support necessary to affect our nation’s objectives. Each of these special missions requires crewmembers to be ready, literally, at a moment’s notice. Travel across a dozen time zones within a few days, many (if not most) duty days lasting over 24 hours are normal. Sprinkle in high cabin altitudes, low moisture, recirculated air and some radiation equals some stressed-out Pelicans. Life “on-the-road” is a little rough around the edges. Most crews are confined to remaining in and around their hotel rooms, sometimes for weeks at a time with a less-than-healthy bounty of burritos, chicken fingers and hot dogs. Gone are the stress relievers of a trip to the gym or mingling with locals downtown. So, stress builds … and builds … and builds (oh, and taking calls from family back home trying to connect on virtual school hasn’t exactly helped).

We are finding our way, though. There are positive aspects to everything … We find new hobbies, like a passion for Skip-Bo, or connect online more often with friends and family we otherwise would not have connected with. Finding positivity and being thankful can be difficult nowadays, but it’s this perseverance that gets us by … and we are learning that it’s okay to be just okay.

But hey, what’s the point of sharing any of this? Well, partly to shamelessly talk about C-5 stuff but also to remind you, the community, that our crews are made up of the same hardworking folks that all have a little more on their shoulders. Dover is reacting and coping with our new way of life in different ways just like the rest of the planet. We see improvements from time to time, but there will likely be a long road ahead. From your Pelican friends in the sky, we are thankful for the support from an amazing community … our Dover community. Our hope:  No matter what is thrown our way next, our community will continue to successfully trust and lean on one another so that we may all persevere!