Hickam AFB welcomes its final C-17

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt Chris Vadnais
  • Air Force News Service
Team Hickam welcomed the last of its eight C-17 Globemaster III aircraft today. The arrival of The Spirit of Kamehameha – Imua marked the successful transformation of the 15th Airlift Wing from a support unit to an operational strategic airlift wing.

Earlier this year the 15th Airlift Wing had no strategic cargo aircraft of its own, only the promise of eight C-17s. The aircraft were to be delivered one at a time over the course of several months. Back then the Wing served primarily as a support unit for nearly 70 tenants including the Pacific Air Forces’ headquarters, a busy Air Mobility Command unit, and the Hawaii Air National Guard. Early this year that role quickly changed.

On February 8th, the first of Hickam’s Globemaster IIIs landed on the flightline. The aircraft, christened “The Spirit of Hawaii Ke-Aloha,” was the first C-17 to be permanently assigned outside the continental United States. The stout, gray workhorse promised new opportunities for strategic airlift in the pacific theater.

“The C-17, as amazing as it is, is nothing more than an opportunity for America to continue to show who America is,” said Pacific Air Forces commander General Paul V. Hester at the first aircraft's reception ceremony. “We’ve had the opportunity … in times of need to show those in this region in particular that America can reach out the velvet hand of humanitarianism and that we can in fact embrace those who need help,” he said.

It didn’t take long for Team Hickam to begin seizing those opportunities. Less than two weeks after the arrival of the first jet, a plan swung into action to provide supplies and recovery equipment to areas in the Philippines affected by a severe mudslide. The C-17 brought 30,000 pounds of relief supplies to a friendly nation—just as Pacific Command leaders anticipated it could—and within days of its arrival at Hickam. Since then, crews have delivered people and goods to neighboring Hawaiian Islands, Australia, and Fiji, among other places.

The crews that operate and maintain the C-17s form a composite unit of active duty and Air National Guard Airmen. It’s a Total Force arrangement designed to share the responsibility of operating the airlifters.

“I think that you’re going to find that this Guard-active-duty-mix will be, if not the model for the rest of the Air Force, a model to completely extend and maximize what we have,” predicted Colonel William Changose, commander of the 15th Airlift Wing from March 2005 to June 2006, in a 2005 interview. “I hope we are the model for the rest of the Air Force; we’re going to give it a good shot,” he added.

So far the partnership seems to be working well. Active duty and Guard Airmen work together in a cohesive unit that has proven capable of sustaining the airlift mission.

The arrival of The Spirit of Kamehameha-Imua marks a new chapter in the history of the 15th Airlift Wing. Colonel Changose has retired, and Colonel John Torres now commands the Airlift Wing. Hickam’s new fleet offers an opportunity to prove that the C-17 is the right aircraft to do the Pacific Command’s strategic airlifting.

“What is really needed in this theater is the ability to rapidly and reliably move things to far away countries. Every country needs to be able to do that,” said Colonel Changose in an interview just before his retirement.

“We can do it better than anybody else, and we can do it better than anybody else because we have the C-17,” he said.

“Absolutely it’s the right plane for this theater. It’s going to pay huge dividends.”