WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE -- An Air Force Reserve C-17 Globemaster III hauling more than a half a million meals began a humanitarian aid mission Friday to the impoverished nation of Haiti.
A 445th Airlift Wing crew of 36 people was due to drop off the equivalent of 541,728 meals once 90,000 pounds of food was loaded into the giant cargo jet on the tarmac outside unit headquarters at Wright-Patterson.
"A lot of times we're just moving cargo from point A to point B," said C-17 pilot Maj. Matthew Crockett, 35, of Columbus. But hauling 45-tons of food to a nation in need was different, he said. "It's rewarding and humbling to see that." Crockett piloted a C-17 to Haiti after a catastrophic earthquake struck the Caribbean nation in 2010 killing tens of thousands and causing widespread damage.
Crew members and civilian aerial porters pushed and strained to load tons of food pallets Friday morning. Crated boxes rolled off a conveyor-belt on three flatbed haulers and through an open hatch into the rear of the giant jet steadied by two stabilizer struts thrust downward onto concrete.
"We take humanitarian aid anywhere and everywhere around the world," said Col. Michael Major, 445th Airlift Wing vice commander.
For Master Sgt. Donald Bodinet, a 54-year-old load master, the flight marks the final mission in a 33-year career. Among his 5,000 flight hours in the air, he put aeromedical evacuation flights into Iraq to bring wounded soldiers home and humanitarian aid deliveries at the top his assignments.
"It's been an honor to do both," the West Chester resident said.
Volunteer workers with Cincinnati-based A Child's Hope International, a non-profit charity, made the food in a warehouse in Sharonville and donated it for the trip. The rice-soy casserole is loaded with vitamins and minerals, dried vegetables and soy protein to meet nutritional needs.
"The needs in Haiti before and after the earthquake are substantial," said Larry E. Bergeron, 65, the founder of the group affiliated with Kids Against Hunger. Along with high unemployment among adults, he said it has been estimated 60 percent of the children in Haiti die of starvation before they reach age 18. "That's obviously an alarming statistic."
The food, estimated at $150,000 in value, will be stockpiled and distributed when needed. "We're trying to get this food in before the major hurricane season strikes Haiti," Bergeron said in a phone interview.
The cargo flight was combined with a 445th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron training exercise. Tech. Sgt. Amanda Hostetter, a 28-year-old flight medic from Lancaster, and other airmen were preparing to practice emergency medical care in the air aboard the C-17.
"For us, a lot of these missions enable us to maintain our qualifications to be able to do our job at any time," said Hostetter, who in civilian life is a medical technician at Fairborn Medical Center.
While some Air Force units have had flying hours cut or been grounded because of sequestration-forced spending reductions, 445th Airlift Wing commander Col. Stephen Goeman said the unit's mobility mission has avoided drastic cuts. Still, the wing expects to shut down on Fridays after July 8 because of mandatory civilian employee furloughs.
"We've gone to pretty much mission-essential operations," he said.
The unit transported the cargo to Haiti through the Denton Program, which allows non-government organizations to use available space on military cargo planes to transport humanitarian aid overseas. The U.S. Agency for International Development, State Department, Department of Defense, and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency operate the assistance program.