Posted by Jeanette DeForge
CHICOPEE — Tech. Sgt. Brian Mizula has flown plenty of missions with the 439th Airlift Wing, but he has never been greeted by so many people who were so thrilled to see him when he landed.
Mizula was part of a crew of 11 wing members from Westover Air Reserve Base who recently flew to Ohio and South Carolina to pick up a donated school bus, a donated ambulance and other supplies and deliver them to Guatemala to help a children’s hospice, schools and residents of Mayan Indian communities.
“There were a lot of emotions. I think one lady kissed everyone five times,” said Mizula, a flight engineer who lives in Northampton.
“It was great being able to see the end users of the cargo and how excited they were,” said Tech. Sgt. Adam Weber, who also flew on the mission.
The March trip is one of many humanitarian aid missions crews at Westover fly to help people around the world. For this one, the Mission of Love Foundation had organized the donation of a school bus, an ambulance, about 800 pounds of corn and medical supplies to be used mostly by Mayan Indians. The problem is they needed a way to get the vehicles and supplies to Guatemala, said Staff Sgt. Kelly Goonan, of South Hadley, a photojournalist for the public affairs office who also went on the trip.
“Our airplane is so well suited because it can carry almost anything quickly and for long distances,” Master Sgt. Andrew Biscoe, public relations technician, said. The base’s C-5B Galaxy jets can carry up to 270,000 pounds of cargo, including multiple vehicles.
The trips are allowed under the Denton Amendment, a U.S. State Department program that allows humanitarian goods to be delivered by the military when there is space available. Westover crews have done a wide variety of missions including delivering utility trucks to New York to help clean up after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Some of the other trips include bringing donated goods to Nicaragua, assisting after the Haiti earthquake in 2010, delivering supplies to Japan after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and bringing equipment to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Biscoe said.
“We do these all the time,” Goonan said.
Since wing members must do overseas missions as part of their training, the trip to Guatemala also served a dual role of helping thousands of people and teaching members of the Air Force Reserve. It is common to combine the missionary flights with training, Goonan said.
“The idea is to go to different air spaces and fly in an out for training,” Mizula said. “It met the requirements.”
This mission was planned fairly quickly. Only a few days before it was to leave officials asked wing members if anyone would volunteer.
“This was a last minute but I like to fly so I decided to go,” said Weber, of Chicopee, an electrical and environmental systems aircraft mechanic.
It was the first humanitarian mission Goonan, Weber and Mizula had ever been on but they said there were several other members of the crew, which included pilots, loadmasters and mechanics, who had flown on a number of previous humanitarian missions.
The crew first flew to Youngstown Air Reserve station in Ohio and picked up the ambulance, bus and two pallets of corn that weighed more than 800 pounds and was donated by local farmers. Then they flew to Joint-Base Charleston, S.C., where they loaded medical supplies on the plane and stayed the night, Goonan said.
The next day they headed to the airport in Guatemala City.
“Getting in and out of the air space was a little rocky,” Mizula said. “You are facing the mountains when you are taking off.”
The airport has a long enough runway to handle the huge jet, but it wasn’t easy to fly in and out of because it is small and surrounded by mountains. Because of the difficulty, the crew had to fly in, unload the cargo and leave before dark. They would have needed special permission to fly out at night, he said.
When the crew arrived they were stunned by the greeting they received, Goonan said.
“It was great seeing how happy and excited everyone was. We got hugs and kisses and thank yous, thank yous,” Goonan said.
Part of the reason was the value of the items Mission of Love had worked to donate. Most of the items were going to Mayan Indians who live near Tecpan, Guatemala, Goonan said.
The ambulance will be the only one of its kind and will help an estimated 80,000 people. The bus will be used to bring 13,000 children to school. Wheelchairs were being delivered to help children with cerebral palsy become mobile and other medical supplies were being delivered to a hospice for terminally-ill children, she said.
The pallets of corn were distributed to Mayan Indian families who use it as a staple to make tortillas.
“They drove it 65 miles with armed escorts because of how valuable it is,” Goonan said.
The process of unloading the plane was especially inspiring. There was no problem driving out the bus or ambulance but when the flight crew realized the forklift available at the airport wouldn’t work to lift the pallets of corn, they started breaking them and passing the bundles from one to the other in a bucket brigade style, Weber said.
Quickly the group of people who greeted them realized what they were doing and joined the line so the Americans and Guatemalans were working together, he said.
“It was great. It took 15 to 20 minutes to get all the corn off,” he said.
After the plane took off and headed for a overnight stop at MacDill Air Force Base, in Florida, one of the other airmen who had been on the flight made a statement to Goonan that she remembered weeks later.
“Something like this brings you back to why you joined the military in the first place,” she said.
Read the original article and see more photos at: http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2014/05/westover_air_reserve_crews_fly.html