- Published Feb. 15, 2022
- By Capt. Justin Clark
- 315th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras —
As part of a weekend aircrew training mission in Central America, Air Force Reserve Citizen Airmen from Joint Base Charleston’s 315th Airlift Wing flew in over 54,000 pounds of donated food and medical equipment to the base here, Feb. 12-14, 2022.
The humanitarian delivery was part of a preplanned C-17 Globemaster III aircrew training mission and was coordinated under the humanitarian Denton Cargo Program, which allows for donated humanitarian cargo to be transported at no added cost to U.S. taxpayers on military aircraft on a space-available basis. Since an aircrew training mission was already required, the crew used the opportunity to deliver the humanitarian cargo, which was received by charitable organizations in Honduras.
“The purposes of this mission were to support the Denton Program and help the Honduran people with this cargo,” said Lt. Col. Derek Bishop, 315 AW chief of safety, who piloted the aircraft during delivery flight. “Also, this mission is really helpful for the loadmasters, and is even helpful for the pilots.”
Bishop said that flying in Central and South America requires pilot skills that can’t easily be practiced elsewhere, such as responding to changing weather, accounting for terrain, language challenges with foreign air traffic control, and more. Flying here helps pilots to keep their skills sharp.
“It’s different in Central and South America – today we had to fly a full procedure approach,” Bishop gave as an example. “Here, you’re not going to get standard vectors like you’re used to in, say, Western Europe or the U.S., so you have to be on your game.”
Combining a training mission with a humanitarian delivery also allows loadmasters – aircrew responsible for managing cargo and any passengers carried on the aircraft – an opportunity to complete periodic currency requirements, said Tech. Sgt. Scott Guerin, loadmaster with the 317th Airlift Squadron. Guerin has served as a loadmaster for nearly eight years, and successfully completed his checkride this weekend, so he is loadmaster-qualified for another 17 months.
“This checkride is known as a ‘no-notice’ checkride,” said Guerin. “No-notice checkrides can be conducted on any mission, without prior knowledge from the loadmaster. This helps to ensure we stay in the books and continue to keep up with knowledge required to stay proficient as a loadmaster.”
Loadmasters are an essential part of C-17 aircrew. For this delivery, they ensured the weight of cargo was within limits of the airplane to safely fly, and made sure cargo was restrained properly to prevent it shifting in flight. Upon arrival in Honduras, they led and facilitated offloading the 16 pallets of cargo, marshalling Material Handling Equipment (MHE), and disengaged cargo restraints.
“I’m expected to be able to accomplish everything in terms of onloading and offloading cargo,” said Guerin. “That includes knowledge on weight and dimension limitations of cargo that can be loaded onto the aircraft. Also, knowledge of aircraft systems such as oxygen, hydraulic and electrical systems is required.”
As Reservists with civilian careers and lives outside the military, Reserve weekend missions like this one provide opportunities for aircrews who have civilian jobs to maintain their flying currency requirements, since they are held to the same standards as Active Duty flyers.
“Currently I am a stay at home dad to three children, however, being an aircrew member in the Reserve offers many opportunities to train and fly,” said Guerin. “It’s unbelievably satisfying to get to come on missions like this and know we’re helping make a difference in people’s lives. It also helps reinforce confidence as we are able to accomplish many training objectives.”
Dual-purpose missions like this one help the Air Force Reserve maintain perishable skills and stay ready for any possible events so that in the event global rapid mobility is needed, Reserve C-17 aircrews are prepared to respond, adding strategic depth to the Active Duty military but also staying skilled for Reserve missions in their own right. Reserve aircrews also help to retain the investment made in training active duty pilots, who after serving their commitment would otherwise potentially leave military service altogether. They are also cost-effective for the Air Force Reserve since the humanitarian cargo was donated and used already-available space on the aircraft. Denton cargo missions work well for Reserve aircrews because they are planned well in advance, which allows members plenty of time to coordinate and create minimal hardship, said Bishop.
What was delivered?
All told, over 54,000 pounds of rice and vegetable meals, medical equipment such as wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, and physical therapy materials, as well as special education teaching supplies, all combined onto 16 full aircraft pallets – each the size of four conventional size pallets – were offloaded at Soto Cano, Honduras.
The cargo is destined for aid organizations which service a combined community of over 275,000 in Honduras. Rural schools, orphanages, and families most in need among Honduras’s poorest areas are the primary beneficiaries of the charitable aid. The delivery was not in response to a specific event in Honduras, but as part of long-term humanitarian support from charitable outreach organizations within the U.S.
Several rural villages will receive rice-based meals as the food is distributed by the Honduran aid organizations, projected to occur over the next five weeks. Some of the largest recipients are the local Honduras Compassion Partners in La Paz and the Pastors Association of Rivera Hernandez, as well as other area groups.
The food was donated from ministries throughout the U.S. One of the largest donors was Abundant Rain Ministries of Coweta, Oklahoma.
The medical equipment, destined for the Gabriela Alvarado Municipal Rehabilitation Center in Danli, Honduras, is for support services for the disabled in the Danli area. It largely consisted of disability rehabilitation devices, physical and speech therapy supplies, as well as teaching materials for students with special needs, and is estimated to assist 350 people at any one time. It was donated by Helping Hands for Honduras of Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Interfaith Service to Latin America of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Sometimes, but not always, crewmembers have seen the impact of Denton deliveries on the recipients firsthand.
“Unfortunately, as loadmasters we don’t get to see where the cargo goes after it leaves our aircraft,” said Guerin, loadmaster. “However, that doesn’t take away the satisfaction you get from knowing you’re helping to make a difference in our international community.”
“One Denton mission I remember,” Guerin continued, “we brought a decommissioned fire truck for the emergency services to use. The firefighters actually came out and saw it as we unloaded it. I could tell they were happy to have it and it felt great knowing we helped make their incredibly difficult jobs a little easier.”
Bishop said that from past experiences on Denton Program missions, he has seen the impact of the cargo delivered on those who receive it.
“It’s appreciated, I know that,” said Bishop. “The one that sticks out in my mind is when we went to Haiti and we brought school buses, and you saw the people who received them there and how appreciative they were.”
The Denton Cargo Program was established under the Denton Amendment of 1986, named for then-US Senator Jeremiah Denton of Alabama, and allows for humanitarian cargo to be carried aboard military aircraft on a space-available basis, so there is no added cost to U.S. taxpayers. It is administered by the Department of Defense, Department of State, and USAID.
All cargo carried as part of the program is fully vetted to ensure that it will be best used by the people it’s intended to reach and cannot be easily obtained in the local area. It also must be safe, securely packed, and weighed prior to being permitted to fly aboard military aircraft.
More information about the Denton Cargo Program can be found at usaid.gov/work-usaid/partnership-opportunities/humanitarian-responders/denton-program.