Master Sgt. Tom House, left, and Tech. Sgt. Josh Fugle offload humanitarian aid from a Charleston-based C-17. The supplies were delivered to Panama and Honduras. (Maj. Wayne Capps/Air Force)
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A training mission this month doubled as a humanitarian relief effort for reserve airmen from the 315th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Charleston, S.C.
A pair of C-17s — the Air Force workhorse most commonly seen in war and at the site of catastrophic natural disasters — quietly delivered tens of thousands of pounds of rice, water, medical and school supplies and other aid to Panama and Honduras.
The 1985 Denton Amendment makes possible the delivery of donated humanitarian relief on military aircraft with available space, according to the Defense Department. That saves the civilian agencies that provide the aid untold dollars in transportation costs, which could be debilitating for small, nonprofit groups like churches.
“The average American, when they tune into the news and see C-17s, it’s over in Afghanistan and previously Iraq,” said Capt. Jared Wagner, a pilot who helped deliver aid to Central America on Feb. 1 and 2. “It’s not until you have a tsunami or an earthquake you see a large part of our mission. As the conflicts are closing out, you will see more of the humanitarian side of the C-17.”
Air Force C-17s ferried more than 10,000 tons of disaster relief to Haiti after an earthquake devastated the country in January 2010; 14 months later, the cargo plane responded to Japan when an earthquake and subsequent tsunami left tens of thousands of people without homes.
But airmen regularly take part in much smaller humanitarian missions, like the one from the 315th — efforts that aren’t in response to disasters. The Air Force has hauled millions of pounds of relief around the world free of charge to the donors, according to the Defense Department, which administers the Denton program with the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development.
Director of operations Maj. Ronald Schier flies a Denton Amendment mission at least once every other month. Some months, there will be two or three flights.
“Our current operations folks always look at this when we have training missions, especially when they see the opportunity in terms of space,” Schier said. “We do this on a continuous basis around the year. It never stops. Whether it’s people in Honduras or people in Africa, we’re always delivering humanitarian aid.”
Thirteen pallets of food, water and school and medical supplies bound for Central America came from nongovernment organizations in Ohio and Charleston, Schier said. Five pallets went to Panama and eight to Honduras — more than 124,000 pounds in all.
It’s one of the most rewarding parts of the job, said Schier, who served in the Army National Guard before joining the Air Force Reserves. You often get to see the people you directly help.
Wagner recalled flying a similar mission to Haiti two years ago. The Haitians watched the crewland and were there as they off-loaded the cargo. As the plane taxied for departure, the Haitians ran alongside the runway cheering.
“No matter who you are or where you’re from, it always feels good to help people,” Schier said. And, “we’re projecting diplomacy with C-17s around the world.”