Northwest Military Blogs: McChord Flightline Chatter

Posts made in: January, 2018 (6) Currently Viewing: 1 - 6 of 6

January 4, 2018 at 3:27pm

Award recognizes wellness in action

Col. Sonkiss, 62nd Airlift Wing commander, left, presents Master Sgt. Benjamin Harrison, 4th Airlift Squadron first sergeant, with the Healthy Squadron Award trophy Dec. 13, 2017, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Photo credit: Master Sgt. Shanda L. De Anda

The 4th Airlift Squadron earned the Healthy Squadron Award during the trophy's inaugural presentation at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Dec. 13. Col. Rebecca Sonkiss presented the trophy to Master Sgt. Benjamin Harrison, 4th AS first sergeant, on behalf of his unit, in recognition of wellness accomplishments throughout 2017.

The Healthy Squadron Award supports the Commander's Wellness Program (CWP) pilot, which is an environmental and policy approach to influencing the health of airmen. The objective of CWP is to provide an evidence-based approach to influencing behavior change, which, in turn, has a positive effect on productivity, presentism and absenteeism. This also has potential impacts to readiness, which makes it a priority.

"The commander authorizes us to take 90 minutes (for physical training), three days a week and with flying schedules and ops tempo, we do (independent) PT," said Harrison. "Everyone just makes sure they get done what they need to get done."

This philosophy is one that the CWP pilot hopes to further encourage. Dr. Danielle Knutson, 62nd Medical Squadron health promotion coordinator, took the CWP objective and, using the evidence-based County Health Rankings Framework as a model, ranked each squadron's CWP health findings.

"Since counties are available in all sizes and shapes and the research review shows they can rank their health promotion data, it makes sense to rank squadrons' health promotion data since they, too, come in all sizes and shapes," Knutson summarized.

She compared the Team McChord findings with overall Air Force averages. This ranking included scores for body mass indexes, tobacco use, physical training and deployment rates.

"The major goal of rankings is to raise awareness about the many factors that influence health, and to provide squadron commanders with solid data to better target intervention and resources to areas where they like to improve, said Knutson. "Also, adding a nice annual traveling trophy is fun, too, and hopefully encourages healthy competition and collaboration."

That spirit of healthy competition seems well on its way as Harrison added, "We're going to stay the course; (and, as Richard Morgan Fliehr, better known as Ric Flair of 1980s and 1990s wrestling notoriety, would say,) ‘to be the man, you have to beat the man.'"

For the next unit to earn the annual roving CWP trophy, they will have to excel in additional areas not ranked this year, but will contribute to 2018 CWP rankings. Those areas include sleep, nutrition and physical activity measures using annual physical health assessment data analysis.

For more information on wellness programs for yourself and your unit, contact Knutson at or 253.982.6947.

January 11, 2018 at 11:53am


The National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station, as seen from the summit of Observation Hill, Antarctica. Courtesy photo

In conjunction with the 446th Airlift Wing, the 62nd Operations Group kicked off the 2017-2018 season of Operation DEEP FREEZE (ODF), a mission offering unparalleled Department of Defense support to the National Science Foundation (NSF)-managed U.S. Antarctic Program, with operations that began in late September.

According to the NSF website, Americans have studied the Antarctic and its interactions with the rest of the planet since 1956. The aim of the Antarctic program is to carry forward the nation's goals of meeting obligations under the Antarctic Treaty, fostering cooperative research with other nations, and protecting the Antarctic environment.

"Since September, we have flown 17 (ODF) missions, transported nearly 950,000 pounds of cargo and more than 1,300 passengers, including the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand," said Maj. Lucas Berreckman, 62nd Operations Group executive officer and instructor pilot.

Ensuring the success of the U.S. Antarctic Program is no small feat. The program's success is accomplished through a network of intricately connected parts known as Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica (JTF-SFA).

JTF-SFA is managed by Pacific Air Forces at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, but relies on support from active-duty and National Guard and Reserve personnel working together as part of JTF-SFA to execute the ODF mission.

"The Air Force provides strategic inter-theater airlift, tactical intra-theater airlift and airdrop, aeromedical evacuation support, and search and rescue response capabilities," said Lt. Col. Trace Dotson, C-17 Antarctic Mission commander. "Operation DEEP FREEZE, the military's support for the Antarctic Program, is supported by the triad of active-duty, Air National Guard, and Air Reserve component personnel. Our airmen provide a reliable airlift capability to one of the more challenging U.S. military peacetime missions due to the harsh environment in which we operate.  Those airmen get to put their skills to test in the coldest, windiest, most inhospitable continent on the globe which truly tests AMC's (Air Mobility Command's) global mobility capability."

Having travelled to the continent twice, once as a student pilot and again as an instructor, Berreckman said he recalls his impression of Antarctica as dreamlike.

"It was surreal," the major explained. "Not knowing what the continent would actually be like beforehand, I found it surprisingly mountainous, truly beautiful, and colder than you would imagine, despite our arriving during the Antarctic summer."

Though striking to behold, Antarctica's austere environment creates unique challenges for those who seek to land and operate there.

In addition to fast-changing weather, which makes approach difficult for pilots, cold and inhospitable surroundings present challenges unlike those loadmasters and maintainers operating outside the aircraft have typically encountered before, Berreckman said.

NSF notes that research is performed in Antarctica only when it cannot be performed at more convenient locations elsewhere on the globe and that research has three distinct goals: to understand the region and its ecosystems; to understand its effects on, and responses to global processes such as climate; and to use the region as a platform to study the upper atmosphere and space.

Likewise, there are distinct goals and benefits for McChord airmen operating in the remote and extreme Antarctic environment. In addition to the advancement of technical skillsets, the ODF mission has resulted in strengthened bonds between the United States and partner nations such as New Zealand.

"The value comes from getting to execute a subset of the C-17 (Globemaster III) mission that I hadn't done before," Berreckman said. "Learning more about the aircraft's capabilities, further developing pilots, loadmasters and maintainers who go on the missions, and also cultivating relationships with our international communities firsthand makes ODF priceless.

"At the beginning of this season, we arranged a (C-17) static display for local residents in New Zealand," Berreckman continued. "More than 3,000 civilians and five ambassadors came through that day, allowing us to communicate our mission and the capabilities of our platform, which is an invaluable opportunity."

There's a reason not every aircraft in the United States Air Force arsenal plays a role in ODF. The C-17 is uniquely suited to the task, and so are the airmen who crew it.

"The C-17 is the perfect size aircraft to provide intra-theater airlift between Christchurch, New Zealand, and Antarctica," Dotson said. "The C-17 can carry up to 100,000 pounds of cargo and people safely to Antarctica while still having enough fuel to return to New Zealand if the weather degrades suddenly. A larger aircraft may not be able to land on the ice runway at McMurdo Station, and smaller aircraft can't afford the large cargo payload that the USAP [U.S. Antarctic Program] requires."

With 13 missions still to accomplish, the current ODF season will conclude in February. The 2018-2019 season will resume in late September or early October 2018.

"It's been a successful season so far and we're looking forward to returning to Christchurch in February to complete our remaining missions," Dotson said.

Despite all these contributions, the 62nd AW remains heavily tasked supporting overseas contingency operations, presidential support missions, and various other high priority airlift and airdrop operations around the world. For more information, visit the McChord website at

January 11, 2018 at 11:58am

Rainier Wing changes command

Col. Sean Pierce, 446th Airlift Wing commander, is handed command of the 446th AW from Maj. Gen. Randall Ogden as Col. Scott McLaughlin is relieved of command during a change of command ceremony, Jan.6. Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Daniel Liddicoet

Col. Sean P. Pierce will assume his role as the 446th Airlift Wing's newest commander following a change of command ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Jan. 6.

Pierce brings with him a breadth of experience specific to the 446th AW's mission having previously served as the 446th Operations Group commander for two years.

Relieving command is Col. Scott L. McLaughlin, who served honorably as the 446th AW's commander for more than three years and will be assuming a new role as the 4th Air Force chief of staff at March Air Reserve Base, California.

Maj. Gen. Randall A. Ogden, 4th Air Force commander, officiated the ceremony and is one of Pierce's earliest Air Force mentors dating back 15 years.

"When you have a leader like Col. Sean Pierce coming," said Ogden, "you can all be confident that you have a leader that is more concerned about his airmen than any accolades he might receive."

Pierce's speech at the ceremony echoed this ethos as he shared his vision for the 446th AW.

"One of the key things I've learned from mentors like General Ogden is that an effective leader is often a servant leader," said Pierce. "The concept of servant leadership inspires others to lead and strengthens an organization by building up the people around us. As leaders, we don't seek the power that our positions provide us, but rather we seek to empower those around us."

Pierce also brings a vast diversity of experience with him to his new role as wing commander.

"He's been a pilot in so many different weapon systems," Ogden said of Pierce, "from helicopters to tankers, to tactical airlift and hurricane hunters. He also has experience serving in the Pentagon on the air staff, which has given him a broad perspective, and makes him an even better leader with that understanding of strategic level decisions and resource allocation issues that we face."

As the 446th AW transitions, its airmen will also remember McLaughlin fondly as a leader who always demonstrated and emphasized the importance of mutual respect.

"Colonel McLaughlin has a reputation for being an extremely talented leader," said Ogden, "but also one that cares for people and has great respect for others no matter what their background may be. I think he does that because he thinks it's the right thing to do, but it also makes our Air Force stronger."

McLaughlin left the 446th AW with a great deal of gratitude for the hard work his airmen dedicated to the wing during his time as commander.

"When I assumed command in 2014," said McLaughlin, "I shared the thought that the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality, and the last is to say thank you. I'll leave you to judge how well I defined reality for 446th Airlift Wing, however, I will say that I enjoyed tremendous support from our airmen in taking a hard look on how we did our business during my time in command."

January 18, 2018 at 12:13pm

AFJROTC launches Flight Academy program

Air Force Junior ROTC cadets take a familiarization flight in a 1st Special Operations Wing aircraft at Hurlburt Field, Fla., June 27, 2017. Photo credit: Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick

Headquarters Air Force Junior ROTC has launched a program aimed at potentially putting more pilots in the cockpits of military aircraft to help address the Air Force's ongoing aircrew shortage.

Beginning in summer 2018, select AFJROTC cadets who applied for a new Fight Academy scholarship will attend an accredited aviation program at one of six partnering universities to get a private pilot license.

The competitive application process started in fall 2017. The names of the initial 120 scholarship recipients from the more than 800 who applied will be released in early 2018.

"The number of applicants and the demographics of the applicant pool have turned out to be beyond any we could have hoped for. It is exciting to know we can concurrently answer the number and demographic issues of the aircrew crisis," said Todd Taylor, AFJROTC Region 1 director and Flight Academy program acting director.

AFJROTC's Flight Academy supports the Air Force Aircrew Crisis Task Force. The task force was tasked by the Air Force chief of staff to come up with new and innovative ways to address the service's shortage of experienced aircrews. The ACTF is tackling the problem along seven lines of effort: requirements, accessions, production, absorption, retention, sortie production and industry collaboration.

The AFJROTC Flight Academy scholarship program is an initiative born of a joint military-industry working group within the industry collaboration line of effort that is responsible for "increasing intake." The working group is charged with leveraging Civil Air Patrol, AFJROTC and general civil aviation to bring back the "luster of aviation" to high school students and to increase diversity in aviation fields.

"The Flight Academy initiative accomplishes two important tasks simultaneously: it helps ‘get the word out' regarding the opportunities in the aviation community and it addresses the issue of diversity throughout the aviation community," said Scotty Lewis, AFJROTC deputy director and the Increasing Intake Working Group military lead.

Of AFJROTC's approximately 120,000 cadets, 58 percent are minority and 40 percent are female. Flight Academy scholarship applications mirror the demographic: 55 percent of those applying for the 2018 scholarships are female or minority cadets.

AFJROTC leaders plan on collaborating with civilian aviation organizations, industry and others to provide partial funding for future Flight Academy scholarships. The scholarships pay for transportation, room and board, academics and flight hours required to potentially earn a private pilot license. The in-residence training typically lasts about seven to nine weeks.

The 120 AFJROTC cadets selected for the summer's Flight Academy and the 250 planned for 2019 are but a drop in the large commercial and military pilot shortage bucket. Civilian airline industry experts project a demand for 117,000 new commercial pilots over the next 20 years. The Air Force is currently short of at least 1,500 pilots to fulfill its requirements.

To help fill those voids down the road, AFJROTC leaders' end goal is to offer scholarships to one percent of its cadet corps, or 1,200 cadets, a year.

Leaders up and down the military chain are aware that many of the cadets who do earn their private pilot license through Flight Academy probably won't have a career in military aviation in their sights, opting for the civilian airline industry instead. The cadets will not incur a military commitment after getting their private pilot license through Flight Academy, nor does getting the license guarantee acceptance into one of the Air Force's officer accessioning programs.

"We understand not all of the cadets graduating from the Flight Academy will elect to take a military track, but that's okay as those young people electing to enter commercial aviation will have a positive impact on the overall national crisis," said Brig. Gen. Michael Koscheski, Air Force Aircrew Crisis Task Force director.

January 18, 2018 at 12:17pm

Team McChord takes to the skies

The B-52 Stratofortress is just one of the many aircraft flying in support of the joint forcible entry exercise. Photo credit: Tech. Sgt. Joshua Garcia

The 62nd Airlift Wing partnered with fellow mobility forces and the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division for a joint forcible entry exercise, Dec. 8-11, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

The purpose of the exercise, which featured a record-breaking C-17 Globemaster III formation of 36 aircraft, was threefold: to practice taking operational control in an emergency situation; to support training for future weapons officers; and to reinforce the need for cohesion among airborne allies when operating in a threat environment.

"JFE is a joint effort primarily between the Air Force and Army to seize operational initiative in a crisis," said Maj. Kristen Smith, 7th Airlift Squadron assistant operations officer. "The JFE sortie prioritizes the C-17 and C-130 (Hercules) weapons school students, requiring them to determine the best course of action to employ the necessary aircraft to deliver equipment by both airdrop and air-land while operating in a simulated threat environment. The threat environment enforces the integration required with other airborne assets in order to meet the objective."

Among those assets were C-17s from McChord; Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina; Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; Dover Air Force Base, Delaware; Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey; and Travis Air Force Base, California.

With so many aircraft involved, having world-class maintenance support was crucial to the success of the JFE.

"Our role was providing all the aircraft and aerial port support required," said Col. Anthony Babcock, 62nd Maintenance Group commander. "We make sure all the aircraft are mission-ready and have the necessary systems that enable the aircraft to fly in a formation of that size. We also provide the aerial port support in terms of loading any cargo, passengers or paratroopers that would go on those airplanes for airdrop."

With McChord contributing more than a dozen aircraft of its own, the ability of the 62nd MXG to make ready a large number of C-17s on a condensed timeline was tested like never before.

"On a daily basis we are flying missions out of McChord constantly and, generally, we are flying one airplane at a time, which allows us to move resources back and forth from one aircraft to another, taking the people, tools and equipment that were working and moving them all to the next mission," Babcock said. "With a big exercise like the JFE, we were doing 15 or more airplanes at a time requiring our airmen to perform more independently."

Junior airmen were charged with the responsibility of preparing, loading and readying the aircraft for launch while supervisors provided the oversight required to execute tasks safely.

"We've got great airmen," Babcock said. "They've got great training and can execute their mission, so for us it was an opportunity to prove to the airmen themselves, as well as others that our maintenance team can do this mission without a lot of input from leadership."

Smith echoed the colonel's sentiments.

"Out of McChord Field, with coordination between the air traffic control tower, ground and maintenance, we were able to depart 17 C-17s in formation in less than 13 minutes," Smith explained. "Team McChord's performance was outstanding. Maintenance was crucial to ensuring all 14 KTCM aircraft departed and operated flawlessly." (Note: KTCM is the airport location identifier for JBLM.)

Though exercises like the JFE often move at break-neck speed and push organizations beyond normal operating ability, the operational experience gained cannot be overstated.

"This exercise details the future of conflict for the U.S. Air Force and its joint and international partners," Smith said. "It provides valuable training that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. This training ensures our airmen are prepared for the next conflict."

In addition to the C-17, other aircraft flying in support of the JFE were the E-3 Sentry, the MQ-9 Reaper, the C-130 Hercules, the E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, the B-52 Stratofortress, the B-1 Lancer, the KC-10 Extender, the HH-60 Pave Hawk, the KC-135 Stratotanker, the F-15C and F-15E Eagle, the A-10 Thunderbolt, the EA-18G Growler, and the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

January 25, 2018 at 12:03pm

Korean War vet's 'guardian angel'

Staff Sgt. Daniel Watkins, 627th Security Forces Squadron unit training manager, stands at a podium while teaching an Expeditionary Active Shooter class at the 627th SFS, Jan. 18, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Whitney Awstutz

There are many who believe there is no such thing as coincidence; things happen for a reason and people enter their lives for a purpose.

If retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Ronald Price and Staff Sgt. Daniel Watkins, 627th Security Forces Squadron unit training manager, did not count themselves among those who believe in fate prior to their serendipitous meeting the morning of Jan. 10, it is likely they do now.

"I was the first person to interact with Lieutenant Colonel Price," said Clarence Cavalier, 627th SFS Education and Training chief. "I originally misjudged Price as a homeless person who had somehow wandered onto base until I asked for some identification and he gave me his retired military ID card. He mentioned that he had previously had a stroke, and he was lost, disoriented and smelled of urine."

After some time, Watkins walked into the office and Cavalier asked him to assist Price in finding his vehicle. Having known the staff sergeant since 2013, Cavalier knew he was the right airman for the task.

"Watkins' character is beyond reproach," Cavalier said. "He is passionate in all he does and goes out of his way to help others regardless of who they are or what they need. He willingly and freely sacrifices much of his time to help those in need.

"Although there were two other individuals in the office, I asked Watkins if he could help assist Lieutenant Colonel Price," Cavalier continued. "Watkins didn't hesitate and began asking Price questions to better ascertain who he was, how he got on base, where he came from, where he needed to go and why he was here."

Having a loved one who had suffered a stroke in the recent past, Watkins was uniquely suited to interact with and understand the needs of 82-year-old Price.

"The reason I understood so well is because my dad had a stroke a year-and-a-half ago," Watkins explained. "Automatically I had a little bit invested because I saw my dad in this man. I noticed every time I asked him a question there was a gap between him understanding what I was saying and actually being able to form a response."

Though none could have predicted it, Watkins and Price formed an instant connection. Watkins helped the older gentleman find his room at base lodging and to his surprise, learned that several people had escorted Price to the facility in the hours since he'd checked in at the Evergreen Inn.

"I couldn't believe that so many people had found him, seen the state he was in, and simply dropped him off without a second thought," Watkins said. "This man was clearly in need of more than a ride to his hotel."

Through patient questioning, Watkins discovered that Price was living in the Philippines and had traveled here for an appointment with Veterans Affairs in Hillsboro, Oregon. A phone call to the organization revealed that Price did not have an appointment or transportation; Watkins scheduled a visit for the following morning and promised that if transportation could not be arranged, he would escort Price to Oregon personally -- a prospect that seemed to please Price.

The pair dined on a meal of Price's choosing that evening: Oreo cookies, beef jerky and Mountain Dew, and Watkins delivered Price safely to his room for the night.

"When I knocked on his door the next morning, Lieutenant Colonel Price was surprised I had not forgotten him," Watkins said. "I told him of course I hadn't."

After the three-hour drive to Oregon, Watkins and Price arrived at the VA and were confronted with several harsh realities.

"The doctor informed me that Lieutenant Colonel Price had been there just five months before and had been perfectly fine," Watkins said. "The doctor decided to do some bloodwork and have an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) done, so if Lieutenant Colonel Price had had a stroke, they could see how bad it was and go from there in determining courses of treatment.

"Now I'm wondering how long they will need Lieutenant Colonel Price to be in the area and where he is supposed to stay during that time," Watkins continued. "Was I supposed to have him live with me and drive him back and forth? Lieutenant Colonel Price had nothing but the clothes on his back and desperately needed prolonged care."

After elevating his concerns to the VA staff, Watkins was given several resources to explore, but in the end, none of them panned out. After dozens of phone calls and disappointments, he and Price were on the brink of driving back to JBLM for a last-ditch attempt at getting Price admitted to the emergency room at Madigan Army Medical Center.

"At this point, I was desperate," Watkins said. "Being religious, I dropped to my knees and started praying for an answer."

Watkins and Price were headed to the elevator in defeat when one of the nurses who attended Price waved them down with news that Price's doctor had been talking with the staff social worker and wanted to meet with them.

"The doctor put in a note saying Lieutenant Colonel Price had to be admitted for at least 48 hours with the potential for a longer stay and testing," Watkins said. "He assured me that if he needed rehabilitation for speech or his voice, they would find a clinic for Price to stay in until he was well enough to travel back home to the Philippines. I was so relieved -- this was the solution I had been searching for all day. My prayers had been answered."

Watkins took Price to the VA hospital ER a short drive away. In minutes, Price was checked in and admitted. Price, who had taken to calling Watkins his guardian angel, encouraged the staff sergeant to begin the long journey home. After receiving assurances from the attending medical staff that Price wasn't going anywhere, Watkins was satisfied that his newfound friend was in good hands.

"As I was about to leave I turned to Lieutenant Colonel Price and asked him if there was anything else he might need," Watkins said. "His only request was a handshake. We both teared up a little bit and I thanked him for his service. I didn't understand why it was so hard to say goodbye to this man who was basically a complete stranger."

It didn't take long for tales of Watkins' heroism to make the rounds among his peers and leadership back at JBLM and beyond. Though proud, Cavalier wasn't surprised by Watkins' actions in the least.

"No way would others have done what Watkins did," Cavalier said. "Others would have said Price was someone else's problem and looked for an easy way out. I am not surprised by Watkins' love and compassion for his fellow man and here's why: belonging to the same faith, Watkins and I believe there are several reasons we are here, and one is to help our fellow man."

Watkins' own words proved Cavalier's theory was spot-on.

"I've had many people call me a ‘Good Samaritan' and tell me that I did something others wouldn't do," Watkins said. "For me, it's about doing unto others as I would have them do unto me; it's about helping those less fortunate and I just couldn't turn Lieutenant Colonel Price away. I feel like I've known him all my life."

Watkins remains in contact with Price and is pleased to report that Price is on the mend.


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