In the fight against hunger, the Alamo Wing delivers a C-5 sized punch

PANAMA

06.04.2024

Story by Julian Hernandez 

433rd Airlift Wing  

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For years, Pastor Ron Spradlin has worked with brothers Francisco and Josue Chavez to fight hunger in Panama. On June 1, they gained new allies in their effort: a 68th Airlift Squadron aircrew, call sign “Reach 2087”, and a 433rd Airlift Wing C-5M Super Galaxy.

The Reserve Citizen Airmen crew used the Air Force’s largest airframe to move 166,000 pounds of food from Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma to Panama Pacifico International Airport, just outside Panama City, as part of a humanitarian relief mission.

The mission falls under the Department of Defense’s Denton Humanitarian Assistance Program, which moves humanitarian cargo, donated by U.S. based Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), to developing nations to ease human suffering. Approved cargo is transported by DOD land, air or sea assets on a space-available basis.

Spradlin heads up Abundant Rain Ministries in Coweta, Oklahoma, and spent months collecting donations from across the country to put this shipment together. He’s spent more than two decades working to feed those in need at home and abroad in places like Panama.

“The poverty there just hit me so hard,” Spradlin said. “In the United States we have hunger, but here they have starvation. There’s a great difference between missing one or two meals a week, and actually starving to death.”

“It does something to you when you walk into an area and they show you a baby dying of starvation,” Spradlin said. “You just can’t shake it. Most people either try to forget about it because they’re traumatized by it, or we can try to do something about it.”

According to the Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook, at least 21.5% percent of people in Panama were living below the poverty line as of 2019. Conditions significantly worsened during the COVID 19 Pandemic.

“Ten years ago, we didn’t have widespread death from starvation and children starving,” said Josue Chavez, who’s been working with Spradlin since 2009 to distribute the food brought in to the communities in need. “We do after the pandemic,” Chavez said. “It’s a blessing to have an entire plane full of food arrive. Hopefully we can continue doing this, because we can get the food faster. The faster we get it, the faster we can take it to the next level.”

Josue and his brother Francisco help get the food to where it is needed through an organization called King’s Castle Foundation (Fundación Castillo Del Rey).

“We go anywhere that is in need,” Josue Chavez said. “Children’s outreach centers, soup kitchens, schools, churches. We mostly work with churches all over the country, especially in very rural areas.”

“People probably just don’t know the little they can give makes a huge difference when you are in need,” Francisco Chavez said. “One pound of rice for a family that doesn’t have anything to eat gives them six meals.”

The Chavez brothers estimate the 166,000 pounds of aid the Alamo Wing crew delivered could help feed up to 1.1 million people. Meals consist of fortified rice, protein-packed soybeans, and dehydrated vegetables for additional vitamins and minerals.

The brothers, along with Spradlin, his wife Terry, and a few dozen other foundation supporters, were on hand to see the crew of Reach 2087 unload the aid at the airport.

“In my 19 and a half years in the Air Force, I’ve never flown a mission quite like this,” said Lt. Col. Matt Menendez, 68th Airlift Squadron chief pilot and aircraft commander for Reach 2087.

“Working so closely with the folks who are delivering the local impact of what we’re transporting was special,” Menendez said. “I could tell all the aid we were bringing and providing was going to make an immediate positive impact to those in need. That brings a lot of satisfaction to all of us who are on this mission.”

For Staff Sgt. Thomas Riojas, a 68th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, handling cargo that can tangibly improve the lives of so many people was particularly fulfilling.

“It was better than a normal mission, because it was rewarding to see their excitement firsthand,” Riojas said. “It felt good to meet the aid workers, show them the aircraft, and give them a chance to see how the aid comes in.”

Master Sgt. Daniel Parsons, a 68th Airlift Squadron flight engineer, also recognized this mission rose above the aircrew’s normal battle rhythm.

“This may look like just another weekend trip on the Air Force Reserve Command scheduling board,” Parsons said. “But it was an extremely rewarding mission. We moved 20 pallets of food more than 2,000 miles, and it really makes you proud to know you helped get this food to the people who need it.”

Within 48 hours of delivery, King’s Castle Foundation had already started distributing the food to people in need.

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