“It’s finally over,” I think to myself as I watch the loadmasters close the cargo door. While my eyes begin to adjust back to the low light, I switch my camera off and clumsily hurry my way back to my seat on the swaying aircraft; reaching for any stable object like a child who just learned to walk.
Finding my seat, I pull off the flight helmet from my head now drenched in sweat. I then feel an all too familiar sensation creeping up from my gut to my throat. Without a moment’s hesitation I quickly dive my hand into my pocket and pull out an envelope reading “MOTION SICKNESS BAG”.
After my body empties my stomach on its own accord into a small white plastic bag, as it has many times before, I get up to discard the bag and ask myself “why am I on this plane?”. Before I can answer the question a hand darts in front of my path holding a stick a gum. I gladly accept the offer from the smirking loadmaster and tell myself “to tell their story, that’s why".
It’s far too often, as a photojournalist, I find myself getting tunnel vision and only seeing what’s through the viewfinder, instead of looking at the big picture. For me on that plane, the big picture was documenting what the culmination of tremendous effort put in place by the members of Team Yokota to complete a successful cargo drop during Exercise Red Flag-Alaska.
According to U.S. Air Force Capt. Jon Van Pinxteren, 36th Airlift Squadron mission planning cell, exercises like Red Flag-Alaska give the members of the 374th Airlift Wing the chance to simulate the participation in an actual wartime environment.
Accomplishing feats such as this requires the hard work and dedication of Airmen across various career fields. One of the benefits of my job is being able to witness this, and see how everyone plays such a massive role in accomplishing the mission.
Many times these roles can be as far from the battlefield as possible, but still contribute to overall success.
Success for the 36 AS is properly representing airlift power, and in this particular exercise it’s by flying C-130s. Making sure that happens is the job of the aircrew and just like the aircraft they are flying, they require fuel, but in their case it’s in the form of calories. Calories provided by men and women from the 374th Force Support Squadron.
“During our time here we haven’t set foot on the flight line,” said Staff Sgt. Kristen Hoyt, 374th FSS food services, while glancing around the dining facility. “Our job is to help feed all the participants of Red Flag here at JBER.”
Even though she might not be able to see what the nutrition she provides does first-hand, Hoyt still says one of her favorite things about participating in the exercise is being able to interact and speak with the different aircrews about their experiences in the air.
I didn’t only find dedicated Airmen working in the dining facility. No matter what section of Red Flag I documented, there were people laboriously working to get the job done, even if they knew they might not be thanked.
Imagine being assigned to take care of a very expensive car. You don’t get to drive it and you rarely ride in it. However, it’s your job to ensure that it’s in top working condition. If there is a malfunction or a part breaks you must fix it, even with knowing that the next day something else might go wrong.
For the members of the 374th Maintenance Squadron, there’s no need to imagine, because that’s what they do almost every day except instead of maintaining a car it’s a multimillion-dollar aircraft. Regardless of the weather or long days, I watched the maintainers diligently working to ensure the three Yokota C-130s were ready to safely fly every mission during the exercise.
No matter how many cargo bundles were dropped or how many times the aircrafts were able to avoid being shot down by simulated enemies, I consider Red-Flag Alaska to be a success for Team Yokota; from the 374th Operations Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment ensuring the safety of the crew to the 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron petroleum, oils and lubricants shop making sure each plane was fueled.
As I write this securely on the ground and with my nausea in check, I consider myself privileged to be able to tell the stories of the hard working women and men of Yokota Air Base who demonstrated what it takes to excellently represent airlift at Red-Flag Alaska.