Andrews Airmen enable Obama’s historic Cuba visit

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace
  • 89th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
President Barack Obama touched down in Cuba on the iconic Air Force One on March 20, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to visit the country in nearly 90 years.

While world leaders and citizens tuned into national news broadcasts of the visit, the men and women of the 89th Airlift Wing continued their no-fail mission, executing a variety of tasks.

Though presidential movements aboard the VC-25 aircraft are the primary semblance of the 89th AW, the wing flies hundreds of special air missions each year. Missions that enable national interests and diplomacy through the global transport of the president, vice president, cabinet members, combatant commanders, and other senior military and elected leaders as tasked by the White House, Air Force chief of staff and Air Mobility Command.

Due to the high-profile, no-fail mission of the special air mission foreign team, known as SAM Fox, members of the Presidential Airlift Group, 89th Operations Group and 89th Maintenance Group are selectively hired into their positions.

SAM is a call sign given to every mission the 89th AW flies. Being more than just a call sign to Airmen within the 89th AW, SAM Fox is a way of life; it carries over into professional appearance of the crew, the plane, mission execution and every aspect of operations, support or maintenance in the wing.

“It takes a dedicated Airman to serve the president, vice president and our other distinguished customers,” said Col. John C. Millard, the 89th AW commander. “We flew more than 200 SAM missions to 75 countries in 2015 alone, and did so with zero mishaps and a 98.4 percent departure reliability rate.

“While flying missions like President Obama’s trip to Cuba take center stage optically,” he added, “there are hundreds of maintainers, aerial porters, communications professionals and other Airmen ensuring the SAM Fox mission is executed perfectly, while still managing high-profile events on the airfield at Joint Base Andrews and off-station.”

Some of the recent events included Pope Francis’ first visit to the U.S., funeral of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud, repatriation of American prisoners abroad, the Arab Summit, the African Leaders Summit, and the 2015 Joint Base Andrews Airshow.

Anytime a news report shows the president, vice president, secretary of state, secretary of defense, or another U.S. national leader meeting with a foreign head of state, it’s the SAM Fox team who got them there, and kept them safe, reliable, comfortable, connected and protected in the process.

One 89th MXG flying crew chief reflected on what being a part of that humbling mission means to him.

“Becoming a flying crew chief in this wing and with this unique mission has been a dream come true. Whenever we’re needed and wherever we must go, I feel like being part of this wing means being part of something truly great,” said Tech. Sgt. Joseph Wallace. “I’ve been to dozens of countries and have supported missions that most people only see in the form of highlights on the nightly news. With each mission, I know history is being made and I’m right there when it happens.”