Oklahoma Guardsmen join U.S. planes in South Africa

  • Published
  • By Capt. Erin Bradley
  • 458th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs
Even with more than 60 nations represented on the flightline and in hangars at the South African Aerospace Defense Exhibition here, many here say the most recognizable tail art goes to the 185th Airlift Squadron from the Oklahoma Air National Guard's 137th Airlift Wing.

The unit, based in Oklahoma City, has an American Indian with full headdress displayed on the vertical stabilizer of its C-130 Hercules. Apart from the unique artwork, the aircraft and crew probably would receive the award for furthest distance traveled, having taken five days to reach here.

"We took the southern route," said Tech. Sgt. Justin Marshall, a full-time guardsman and crew chief. "We left Oklahoma City Sept. 11 and traveled to Trinidad, Rio de Janeiro, the Ascension Islands, Namibia and finally, South Africa."

The five-day journey included more than 30 hours of flying time for the 15 members aboard. Conditions on the C-130 resembled more of a high-tech garage sale than the normally spacious cargo area because of the unit's planned participation in a training exercise after the air show static display.

"We're bringing quite a lot of equipment for the follow-on exercise," Marshall said. "In addition to the aircraft crew, we also have two medical technicians and two flight nurses, plus their associated equipment for a medical evacuation exercise we'll be participating in with the South African air force."

To that end, the C-130 is fitted out with a series of stretcher stands. The aircraft can accommodate more than 70 stretchers in its role as medical evacuation airplane. The guardsmen will also be providing the C-130 for South African paratroopers to jump from during parachute training.

"We've been looking forward to this since we heard about it in July," said Marshall. "I had just gotten back from an (air and space expeditionary force) deployment to Germany when our commander called me in and asked if I wanted to go to South Africa. It's not the type of offer you turn down."

First Lt. Justin Walker, co-pilot, also could not turn down the opportunity to train in Africa.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a traditional guardsman," said Walker. "We don't usually get these type of trips but because of the operations tempo within the active-duty C-130 community, we were able to pick it up."

For Walker, a laboratory technician at Mercy Hospital in Oklahoma City, the training means he is on the road more often, but his civilian job, "is very good about giving me time off to fulfill my commitment to the Guard." (Courtesy of U.S. Air Forces in Europe News Service)