It’s big enough to carry a 69-ton M1 Abrams battle tank, plus additional armored vehicles, trucks, trailers and palletized cargo – 179,000 pounds worth. Or 102 paratroopers and all their equipment. It can take off and land on runways as short as 3,500 feet. (Imagine seeing one take off from the Tacoma Narrows Airport.) It can back up while taxiing using its four Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines.
Meet the Boeing C-17, aka Globemaster III, the second-largest airframe flown by the U.S. Air Force.
This goliath is familiar to many South Sounders. We see them cruising around on training missions seemingly so low that you could reach up and touch one.
There are 48 of these workhorses permanently assigned to McChord Field, part of Joint Base Lewis McChord, the nation’s fourth largest military base just 9 miles south, as the crow flies, from the UW Tacoma campus. More than 10,000 active-duty, reserve, National Guard and civilian personnel support the mission of the C-17s at McChord. (The base in total serves more than 120,000 active-duty, reserves, civilians, dependents and retirees, with an annual contribution to the region’s economy of $9.2 billion.)
This past week, the C-17 became a living symbol of the strong connections between UW Tacoma and JBLM. On Friday, Nov. 2, Chancellor Mark Pagano was installed as an honorary commander of the 62nd Airlift Wing, one of the two Air Force units that keep the C-17s in the air. (The other is the 446th Airlift Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit that operates alongside the 62nd.)
Then, on Saturday, Nov. 3, a C-17 performed a spectacular flight over Husky Stadium, during the football game against Stanford. The flyover was part of UW’s Veterans Appreciation, a two-week set of commemorative events which also included the awarding of the university’s Distinguished Alumni Veteran Award (DAVA) to Patti Taylor, an alumna of both UW Tacoma and UW in Seattle.
The honorary commander program was established by the Air Force to give civilian community leaders an “inside view” of the operations of the service, and to increase military involvement in civic activities. The program matches community leaders with Air Force units. Serving two year rotations, honorary commanders are invited to attend unit functions, ceremonies and family events.
UW Tacoma Chancellor Mark Pagano is matched with Col. Scovill Currin, the Commander of the 62nd Airlift Wing at JBLM. Col. Currin, the highest-ranking officer at McChord Field, entered the military when he graduated from the Air Force ROTC program at The Citadel in 1997. Since then, he has received a number of military and civilian educational credentials, culminating in a Ph.D. in history from Duke University in 2015.
On Nov. 2, Chancellor Pagano and 17 other South Sound community leaders each experienced a formal installation that resembled the traditional Air Force change-of-command ceremony, involving a special pennant called a guidon. During the ceremony, Col. Currin passed the guidon to Chancellor Pagano, and the two momentarily held it together, representing the relationship that will be forged over the next two years between the one, as Commander, and the other, as Honorary Commander.
Other Honorary Commanders installed on Nov. 2 represent a cross section of for-profit and non-profit organizations around the Puget Sound region, including the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department, the Pierce County Skills Center, Tacoma Rainiers Baseball, the City of Lacey, Starbucks and America’s Credit Union.
Months ago, Rosalynn “Roz” Johnson, UW Tacoma's associate director of veteran and military services, sat down with veteran leaders from all three UW campuses to begin planning for the 2018 Veterans Appreciation Week, an extended focus on the connections UW has to the military-related community.
Someone suggested it might be cool to have an Air Force “fly-over” of Husky Stadium during the Nov. 3 game, which would have a theme focused on honoring veterans for their service. The last such flyover had been in 2010. Roz noted that such requests took a long time, so they better get started right away.
The official form was submitted. The way the process works, the approval for the flyover comes first, then the details are worked out about what plane or planes and what unit or base will be represented. As soon as the approval for a fly-over came down, Roz went to work, contacting McChord Field’s 62nd Airlift Wing. She knew that Mark Pagano was going to be installed as an Honorary Commander of the unit. What better way to tie it all together than to have a C-17 do the flyover?
Her grass-roots effort, working her relationships with McChord personnel, was successful. It was decided that the flight would be handled by the 446th Airlift Wing, the Reserve partners of the 62nd. Even better, three of the ten flight crew members would have UW connections. Maj. Josh Pieper, ’02, the aircraft commander, has a UW B.S. in aeronautical and astronautical engineering. Maj. Corey Simmons, ’07, one of the flight pilots, has a UW B.A. in history. Chief Master Sergeant James Masura, ’92, one of three loadmasters on the flight, has a UW B.S. in aeronautical and astronautical engineering.
On game day, the atmosphere in the stadium was electric. Prior to kick-off, the theme of the evening was set with Operation Salute to Service, a multimedia extravaganza with a color guard, student veterans down on the field for a big flag unfurling, and the introduction of players who wore veteran names on their uniforms.
And then the big C-17 came on the scene. At first, it was far away. The crowd could see a close-up image of the plane on the Huskytron, but to the naked eye it was a diminutive speck above the horizon. Quickly, though, it loomed larger and larger. Soon, the actual plane was zooming overhead, drawing all eyes to a large 4-engine behemoth 1,000 feet above the stadium. The roar of approval from the crowd was briefly drowned out by the thunder of those engines.
The plane receded into the evening sky. But there was more to come. After a quick, 13-minute flight back to McChord Field, the crew jumped aboard ground-based transportation of the four-wheeled variety and high-tailed it north through I-5 traffic back to Husky Stadium. They got there in time to make an appearance on the sidelines and watch the Huskies go on to beat Stanford 27-23.
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org