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Citizen Airmen help keep C-17s safe during Dorian

Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian, which at its strongest was a Category 5 hurricane, dropped to a Category 3 storm as it brushed the South Carolina coast, with the eye about 50 miles from Charleston. The storm pelted the Lowcountry with more than 10 inches of rain and delivered wind gusts approaching 100 mph causing flooding and power outages. (U.S. Navy photo via Naval Research Laboratory)

Empty flight line

This is what the Joint Base Charleston flight line looked like, absent C-17s and their ground support equipment, the day before Hurricane Dorian swiped the South Carolina Coast Sept. 5, 2019. Active duty and Reserve maintainers evacuated 24 C-17 Globemaster IIIs out of the storm's path. (courtesy photo)


A handful of Joint Base Charleston, S.C. Reservists spent their Labor Day with their active duty teammates to evacuate 24 C-17 Globemaster IIIs ahead of Hurricane Dorian.

Fifteen Reservists from the 315th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and 315th Maintenance Squadron here joined members of the 437th Maintenance Group to clear and launch the C-17s, Sept. 2, to Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota. Charleston’s remaining C-17s were already away from the base on various missions and were not involved.

“Sometimes people wonder why we start the evacuation process so early. Well it’s not really the wind and rain that will keep us from working/launching jets, it’s the lightening,” said Chief Master Sgt. Michele Summers, 315th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “Our maintainers never complain about working in the worst kinds of weather, but lightning is a safety risk so we can’t ever chance that,”

Clearing a jet to launch involves fixing all the grounding discrepancies, or at least getting the aircraft to a PMC (partially mission capable) status so they can be flown out to safety.

“Once the aircraft are repaired, the generation process begins; fueling, servicing liquid oxygen, removing covers and plugs, starting up the APUs (auxiliary power unit); getting things ready for the flight crew’s arrival at the jet,” Summers said.

Once the maintainers have prepped the jet, aircrews arrive about 90 minutes prior to launch and run their preflight checks. “If all is well, engine start comes about 15 minutes prior to launch time, and then the jet taxis and takes off with no issues,” Summers said.

One Reserve aircrew from the 317th Airlift Squadron evacuated one of the jets, while the 437th Airlift Wing – who own the jets – flew the other 23 to Ellsworth AFB.  Twelve Joint Base Charleston C-17s were involved in off station operations at the time of the evacuation, so were not affected.

Joint Base Charleston Commander, Col. Terrence Adams also issued a limited evacuation order for the base effectively shutting down normal base operations.

Col. Gregory Gilmour, 315th Airlift Wing commander, represented the JBC Reserve component in the Team Charleston triad on the Crisis Action Team, alongside his fellow active duty commanders at the 437th AW and 628th Air Base Wing.

Hurricane Dorian, which at its strongest was a Category 5 hurricane, dropped to a Category 3 storm as it brushed the South Carolina coast, with the eye about 50 miles from Charleston. The storm pelted the Lowcountry with more than 10 inches of rain and delivered wind gusts approaching 100 mph causing flooding and power outages.

When the evacuated C-17s returned to Charleston Sept. 7-8, the 315th Airlift Wing’s Citizen Airmen were once again working side by side with their active duty teammates to recover the aircraft.

“The Maintenance Groups of the 315th and 437th work very well together as a matter of practice,” said Col. Thomas Walter, 315th MXG commander. “The combined efforts when clearing the ramp prior to Dorian, and bringing those jets home is a great example of how two units can become one whenever the mission requires.”

The base was back fully operational Sept. 9 with mostly minimal damage to trees.

Joint Base Charleston currently owns 36 C-17 Globemaster IIIs.

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