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Crew chief circles Earth 104 times

CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Tech. Sgt. Rodger Folkerts has logged 5,000 hours in the C-17 Globemaster III as a flying crew chief.  This is equal to traveling 2,590,000 miles -- enough to circle Earth more than 104 times.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jason Bailey)

CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Tech. Sgt. Rodger Folkerts has logged 5,000 hours in the C-17 Globemaster III as a flying crew chief. This is equal to traveling 2,590,000 miles -- enough to circle Earth more than 104 times. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jason Bailey)

CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. (AFPN) -- Tech. Sgt. Rodger Folkerts is the first person to reach the 5,000-hour mark in a C-17 Globemaster III.

It has been an “amazing” journey, said the aircraft pneudraulics specialist and flying crew chief.

Folkerts reached the 5,000-hour mark during a recent Operation Enduring Freedom mission, according to Tech. Sgt. Ed Hood, Flying Crew Chief Program manager, who tracks and logs every mission flying crew chiefs go on.

Folkerts’ 5,000 hours in a C-17 is equal to traveling 2,590,000 miles -– enough to circle Earth more than 104 times.

“I think it’s an unheard of accomplishment,” said Hood. “Flying crew chiefs support all the flying squadrons here and aren’t constrained by the rules and regulations of individuals on flying status. They are only required eight hours of uninterrupted sleep in a 24-hour period.

“He’s been a part of every real-world operation the C-17 has been in. You name it, the C-17 has done it, and so has he.”

Folkerts is happy with his career choice.

“What other job in the world will send you to so many different places?” said Folkerts. “I can’t even list the places I’ve been. It’s easier to list the places I haven’t been. You should see my photo album.”

At his home, he marks a globe with stickers of every place he’s traveled -- the land masses are nearly obliterated with gold stars.

Charleston AFB began the Flying Crew Chief Program in June 1993. When Folkerts arrived here in April 1996, he said he jumped at the chance to be a part of it. As a flying crew chief, he would be responsible for the “health” of the aircraft.

“I’ve got the best of both worlds,” he said.

Folkerts describes his career so far as “lucky.”

“It’s amazing that I get the privilege to fly,” he said. “I tell other (flying crew chiefs), ‘It’s not your right to be in the program; consider it a privilege.’”

Ten months after arriving here, the native of Loganville, Ga., logged his first hour on a C-17 when he flew to Panama and back Feb. 4, 1997.

Even after all this time, Folkerts is still in awe of the aircraft.

“It’s just amazing what it can do,” he said. “It really gets your heart beating. Five thousand hours, and I still get a kick out of it.”

In 2002 alone, Folkerts was gone 318 days.

“We love flying crew chiefs,” said Maj. Paul Bauman, 437th Operations Support Squadron chief of training. “Their energy and expertise often times is what will keep a mission going.”

Even with a demanding schedule like his, Folkerts is only three classes away from a bachelor’s degree in applied science.

“It’s tough,” he said. “The hours are long, but it’s been awesome. I consider myself blessed to have such an outstanding career after only 12 years in the Air Force. I’ve done more in my six years at Charleston than most people get to do in 30 years.”

Being a flying crew chief, Folkerts said he has to take the bad with the good.

“I remember landing in Italy after coming back from Africa,” he said. “They wouldn’t let us leave the plane because they thought there was a chance we could have malaria. We had to stay on the jet for 15 hours until they gassed up and we could move on.”

Using wisdom gained from experiences like that, Folkerts hopes to manage the flying crew chief program here one day.

Even though Folkerts “lives out of a suitcase,” he said he wants to keep flying as long as he can.

“It’s great to be able to live your dream,” he said. “The best part is you never know where they’re going to send you next.”

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