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JB Charleston Airmen support presidential mission to Cuba

Senior Airman Michael Eckert from the 16th Airlift Squadron and Tech. Sgt. Tripp Gilbert from the 701st Airlift Squadron, both loadmasters, prepare a C-17 Globemaster III for a presidential support mission to Havana, Cuba.  The diplomatic mission was the first time a sitting U.S. president has visited the communist nation in 88 years.   (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Wayne Capps)

Senior Airman Michael Eckert and Tech. Sgt. Tripp Gilbert, both loadmasters, prepare a C-17 Globemaster III for a presidential support mission to Havana, Cuba. The diplomatic mission marked the first time a sitting U.S. president has visited the communist nation in 88 years. Eckert is with the 16th Airlift Squadron, while Gilbert is with the 701st Airlift Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. Wayne Capps)

A medical crew from 59 Medical Wing at Joint Base San Antonio Lackland, practices medical procedures on a C-17 Globemaster III during a presidential support mission to Havana, Cuba.  The diplomatic mission was the first time a sitting U.S. president has visited the communist nation in 88 years.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Wayne Capps)

A 59th Medical Wing medical crew from Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland practices procedures while on a C-17 Globemaster III during a presidential support mission to Havana, Cuba. The diplomatic mission marked the first time a sitting U.S. president has visited the communist nation in 88 years. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. Wayne Capps)

HAVANA, CUBA (AFNS) -- As President Barack Obama landed in Havana, Cuba, it marked the first time a sitting U.S. president visited the communist nation in over 88 years, and Airmen from Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, played a pivotal role in the historic mission.

Airmen from the 628th Air Base Wing, and 437th and 315th Airlift Wings provided everything from aircrew members, fuels, security and maintenance personnel, as well as financial and logistical support for the diplomatic endeavor.

“This was a very big undertaking with a lot of people involved,” said Senior Airman Michael Eckert, a loadmaster with the 16th Airlift Squadron. “It is a lot to wrap your head around."

One of the critical missions performed by JB Charleston Airmen was to support the medical teams who remained on standby while the president was on the island nation.

“This is where your training kicks in,” said 1st Lt. Chelsea Lesniewski, a pilot from the 701st Airlift Squadron. “We are all excited about being in Havana, but we are here to get the president where he needs to go, and to be trusted with that responsibility is a pretty big deal."

Many of the Airmen were excited to be there supporting the historic restoration of ties with Cuba.

“I think we will be looking back years from now saying, I was a part of that,” said Staff Sgt. Austin Barkdoll, a flying crew chief with the 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “I am really glad to be one of the first military representatives from the U.S. to be here. I think being on this mission is pretty special."

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