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Sharper than the rest

7th AS earns top honors

Team McChord airmen with the 7th Airlift Squadron stand in front of a C-17 Globemaster III at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, March 14, 2023. Photo credit: Airman 1st Class Kylee Tyus

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD -Team McChord's 7th Airlift Squadron has been awarded multiple prestigious awards by Air Mobility Command including the General James H. Doolittle "Aircrew of the Year" Award and the General Joseph Smith "Airlift Squadron of the Year" Trophy.

The General Doolittle award is presented to the aircrew that displayed the most exemplary service, unwavering bravery, and determination while accomplishing their mission under difficult conditions.

Last year, the aircrew of REACH 190 from the 7th AS was tasked with a time-sensitive combat mobility mission relocating personnel and assets out of an air base in Niger. In less than 72 hours from notification, they were the first crew to operate inside the militarily and politically contested area. Undeterred by the challenges, REACH 190 executed seven sorties into Niger, successfully relocating critical U.S. Defense and State Department assets and personnel to a safe location.

"We all shared a common mindset of willingness and a sense of urgency to accomplish this mission," said Master Sgt. Jason Fortwengler, 7th AS operations superintendent. "Relocating the personnel and assets was critical for the safety of our fellow service members assigned there and to prevent any degradation to their mission of supporting counter insurgency in the region. Because of all these factors, we all recognized the urgent and critical nature of this mission and must be accomplished without delay."

Many of the hazardous conditions included observed surface-to-air missiles, vehicle mounted anti-aircraft artillery, and military blockades on the active airfield during a time when U.S. presence in the country was highly contentious.

According to Fortwengler, they increased efficiency and reduced mission cycle time by establishing a second forward staging location in Gran Canaria, Spain. The crew liaised with the Spanish military establishing procedures for other crews operating at this location.

Over the course of their mission, the REACH 190 crew worked through degraded communications challenges and creatively used all tools available, including night vision goggles, to overcome the evolving situation during around-the-clock operations.

"This not only affected our crew, but crews who would come after us to support this mission, as well as command and control (C2) agencies," said Fortwengler. "To mitigate these factors and ensure effective communication in a degraded environment, our crew innovated new C2 procedures and identified critical infrastructure issues for follow-on taskings."

Due to political unrest and lack of resupply, the U.S. personnel assigned to the area had not received perishable food supplies in over 90 days. The REACH 190 crew went beyond the scope of their baseline taskings to obtain and deliver 9,000 pounds of critically needed fresh sustenance to fuel American service members and diplomats in the area of responsibility during the operational churn.

"When we executed this mission, it was a short order tasking into a rapidly developing situation," said Capt. Dylan Bishop, former 7th AS instructor pilot and current 49th Combat Training Squadron assistant flight commander of future operations. "This is something we train for every time we fly. The 62d Airlift Wing and 7th AS are at the forefront of difficult training that creates dynamic situations, making the crews use creative problem-solving techniques to accomplish difficult tasks."

Throughout the 28-day mission, the REACH 190 crew flew 91 hours over 21 sorties including 25 hours of combat time and 27 hours of combat support. In total, they airlifted 471 thousand pounds of cargo consisting of 11 pallets, 246 passengers and nine vehicles.

"The aircrew and maintainers of REACH 190 are the epitome of the 7th AS motto "Willing and Able," said Lt. Col. Brandon Westling, the 7th AS commander. "The Swords are incredibly proud of our crew's sharp dedication to their mission and the men and women that relied on them to get the job done despite nearly every operational challenge imaginable."

In addition to being awarded the Doolittle Award, the crew's exceptional efforts and dedication during this mission have earned them other prestigious nominations including the Mackay Trophy and the Lieutenant General William H. Tunner Award.

"Our unit's command team has empowered all members to lead, make decisions, and take action based on the best understanding of risk and reality of each situation and recognizes and rewards people for their excellence," said Fortwengler. "This has contributed to developing a very strong sense of pride for being a Sword. When we are operating around the world, we know we are representing the Sword brand."

In addition to the accolades of REACH 190, the 7th AS also collectively won the General Joseph P. Smith Trophy which is awarded to the most outstanding airlift squadron in Air Mobility Command.

"We simply endeavored to be both good humans and be good at what we do," said Westling. "With that combination rooted in the 7th AS culture, the Swords continue to be a high functioning team, and it will be that teamwork that again defines 2024 for the Swords."

The 7th AS distinguished itself as AMC's highest tasked airlift squadron in 2023, spearheading global operations across all seven continents while executing multiple strategic international joint exercises, and developing new tactics, techniques and procedures with Combat Air Forces. They also pioneered AMC's first Operational Wing Fatigue Countermeasure Policy and led efforts to enhance the quality of life for Team McChord airmen and the rest of the Major Command through a Special Leave Accrual initiative for other "deployed in place" squadrons.

The 7th AS and the REACH 190 crew's unwavering dedication, steadfast leadership and boundless courage exemplify the 62d AW's priority to project power, deterrence, and hope throughout each mission, ensuring the sharp focus and execution of today's global airlift mission.

The following REACH 190 crew members were specifically recognized and awarded for their actions:

Capt. Dylan Bishop

Lt. Col.Kevin Brooks

1st Lt.Andrew Valentino

Master Sgt.Jason Fortwengler

Staff Sgt. Cody Perala

Staff Sgt.Emir Murphy

Senior Airman Pierce Gailliot

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