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Airmen conduct historic mission to Virgin Islands following Irma

Members of the 14th and 15th Airlift Squadrons transported a Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control mobile tower from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, to the Cyril E. King Airport in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, Sept. 12.

Members of the 14th and 15th Airlift Squadrons transported a Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control mobile tower from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, to the Cyril E. King Airport in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Sept. 12, 2017. The mobile ATC tower was sent in response to Hurricane Irma to assist St. Thomas officials in conducting 24 hour airfield operations for civilian and military aircraft. (Courtesy Photo)

The first C-17 Globemaster III aircrew returns to the JB Charleston, S.C. flightline on Sept. 13 after the Hurricane Irma evacuation order was rescinded.

The first C-17 Globemaster III aircraft returns to Joint Base Charleston, S.C., Sept. 13, 2017, after the Hurricane Irma evacuation order was rescinded. This aircrew consisted of members of the 14th and 15th Airlift Squadrons and transported a Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control mobile tower from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, to the Cyril E. King Airport in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Thomas T. Charlton)

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. (AFNS) --

Members of the 14th and 15th Airlift Squadrons delivered a Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control mobile tower from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, to the Cyril E. King Airport in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Sept. 12, 2017.

The mobile ATC tower was sent in response to Hurricane Irma to assist St. Thomas officials in conducting 24 hour airfield operations for civilian and military aircraft.

“Captain (Patrick) Murphy and I were originally on an airdrop training operation in Eglin Air Force Base, (Florida) when Joint Base Charleston evacuated in response to Hurricane Irma,” said Capt. Kyle Curry, 14th AS pilot. “The evacuation order caused us to fly to Travis Air Force Base (California) to wait for the hurricane to pass. While there, we were tasked to help deliver an ATC tower to St. Thomas with Captain (Scott) Szalejko, and Lt. Col. (Jeremy) Jones.”

Curry and Murphy, also a 14th AS pilot, flew together with Szalejko and Jones, both 15th AS pilots to accomplish the mission. Interestingly, the tower is the only mobile ATC tower in the world and the flight was the first time an ATC tower had been delivered by a military aircraft.

“I got a call a couple days ago asking me to figure how to get a mobile ATC tower from Mountain Home AFB to St. Thomas,” said John Buchanan, 60th Aerial Port Squadron, civilian operations manager at Travis AFB. “We had to work with (Northern Command), FAA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and North American Aerospace Defense to get this tower delivered, and we got it all figured out in 24 hours.”

Buchanan and his team had to figure out how to load the tower into the aircraft since it had never been done before. Members of the 366th Logistics Readiness Squadron, Mountain Home AFB, also did some additional training to ensure the tower was safely loaded.

“We had to get Air Transportability Test Loading Activity certified so we could be qualified to help move and load the ATC tower when the aircrew got here,” said Master Sgt. Donald Ray, 366th LRS superintendent. “The tower is actually from Boise, Idaho’s FAA department and we had to use their specific truck to transfer and load the tower so it could get to its final destination.”

The tower was needed because Hurricane Irma critically damaged the Cyril E. King Airport. Air traffic controllers were being brought in from Puerto Rico to assist. Delivering the tower allowed airport operations to resume and helped provide an extra level of support to those affected by the hurricane.

This mission was unique because several squadrons and bases came together to provide command and control to a location severely battered by Hurricane Irma, said Lt. Col Adam Bingham, 14th AS commander. 

“The mission also shows you how you can mix two squadrons together and accomplish great feats,” Bingham added. “Military service members care deeply about the American population, and missions like this reinforce our passion for serving them."

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