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Raincross Trophy Dinner honors best in Fourth Air Force

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Linda E. Welz
  • 4th Air Force Public Affairs
The 452nd Air Mobility Wing, March Air Reserve Base, Calif., was awarded the Raincross Trophy Thursday evening at the 11th annual Raincross Trophy Dinner, held at the Riverside Convention Center, Riverside, Calif.

The awards dinner was sponsored by the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce Military Affairs Committee. It is held to celebrate the excellent work and commitment of the 11 wings and two groups in Fourth Air Force and was a highlight of the 4th AF Commander's Conference.

The Raincross Trophy recognizes the work of aircrews assigned to wings under the 4th AF flag that display exceptional airmanship during an individual mission or sustained operations and carries bragging rights as the best wing or group in the numbered Air Force.

"This award is about excellence," said Chief Master Sgt. Agustin A. Huerta, 452nd AMW Command Chief. "It's an award of excellence. It's about the people in the wing. In the past, today and into the future there never has been, nor ever will be, a shortage of excellence in the Air Force!"

Accepting the trophy on behalf of the men and women of the 452nd AMW was Brig. Gen. James L. Melin, Commander. He thanked the chamber for the prestigious award, which was created in 1998 as a means for the community to welcome the numbered Air Force back to its original 1940 birthplace - Riverside, Calif.

"Ninety-one years ago this community trusted us enough to bring March Field here. We have spent the last 91 years trying to repay that trust, just like citizen Airmen from city to city who simply volunteer their time and roll up their sleeves to justify the faith those communities have put in them and in us to defend this country. It's my honor to accept this award on behalf of the men and women of the 452nd Air Mobility Wing."

Additionally, aircrew members from the 97th, 313th and 728th Airlift Squadrons, part of the 446th Airlift Wing, McChord Air Force Base, Wash., were awarded the 10th annual Aircrew Excellence Award at the dinner. Col. (Ret.) Nancy Driscoll, presented the award on behalf of the Bob Hope Chapter of the Air Force Association.

This Aircrew Excellence Award is presented to recognize the 4th Air Force aircrew whose dedication, airmanship and mission accomplishment, in support of our country's air, space and cyberspace missions have placed them above their peers.

On Jan. 2, 2008, the McChord aircrew began coordination for an airdrop mission to aid a fishing trawler, The Argos Georgia, and its 23-member crew from New Zealand, South Africa, Spain and Russia. The trawler had sustained a catastrophic engine failure while its crew negotiated severe ice conditions, leaving it without propulsion and power since Dec. 24. The trawler was frozen in the ice flow off the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica and had been drifting with the ice flow for more than a week. The ship's parent company had exhausted all its resources and couldn't reach the trawler for at least 10 days.

Knowing there were lives at stake, the McChord crew expedited approval requests to Air Mobility Command, Pacific Air Forces, the New Zealand Defense Force, the National Science Foundation, and the Secretary of Defense to fly the mission. As there was no charted drop zone, the airdrop would be 100 percent pilot-directed, which required the Defense Secretary's approval.

At the same time, Airmen from the 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, Christchurch, New Zealand, researched what needed to be done to repair The Argos Georgia. They locally purchased parts and buoys then palletized them for the air drop. Finally, they picked up parachutes at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, for the flight.

Two days later all was readied, the mission was approved and the pilots were confident in their calculations and plotting of where they expected The Argos Georgia to be. The weather forecast warned of two Pacific storms bearing down on the ship's position, threatening to delay the mission for several days. Concerned for the lives of the sailors stranded in the subfreezing Arctic conditions, the McChord crew decided to press on.

During the three-hour flight from Christchurch aboard the C-17 Globemaster III the aircrew reviewed all possible scenarios of what could happen.

From one loadmaster's point of view, the most difficult part of the mission was calculating the size and weight of the loads they would be dropping, said Master Sgt. Marshall S. Dellinger.

"We had an engine that weighed 100 pounds. It (the load) needed to weigh 500 pounds for the drop, so we added chocolate, newspapers, wood, anything we could to get it to the correct weight. Then we were told each load needed to be able to float." (Adding flotation devices meant recalculations.)

The plane's decent through the extremely heavy cloud layers was slow and steady. Were their calculations correct? Would they find their target? Was the weather report they had received accurate?

With everyone ready and in place for the drops, the massive cargo jet finally broke through the clouds. There it was! The Argus Georgia was exactly where they had calculated it would be. Without hesitation, the airdrop sequence began. Approximately 400 feet above the ocean's ice flow at 150 knots they airdropped an engine, several parts and about 150 pounds of supplies to the trapped crew, all landing alongside the ship within 100 meters of their target.

Ecstatic and thankful for the ability to provide the life-saving equipment and supplies required to sustain the sailors until more help arrived, the aircrew turned the C-17 around for the return leg.

Although the weather continued to deteriorate, the flight and subsequent safe landing was expertly executed in absolute zero visibility.

The aircrew members distinguished themselves through airmanship excellence, superior crew resource management and outstanding dedication to their mission and to fellow global citizens. 

The 2008 Fourth Air Force Aircrew Excellence Award winners are pilots, Lt. Col. Doug Soho, Maj. Tom Jensen, Maj. Mark Brown, and loadmasters, Chief Master Sgt. Jim Maura, Senior Master Sgt. Lance Gustafson and Master Sgt. Marshall S. Dellinger. 

Accepting the award on behalf of the entire crew were Col. David Pavey, Commander, 446th Operations Group, and three of the crew members: Maj. Jensen, Chief Masura and Sgt. Dellinger. 

Finally, Col. Cam LeBlanc, 4th AF Director Logistics Division, presented the Chief Master Sgt. James K. Clouse Trophy to the 434th Maintenance Group, Grissom Air Force Base, Ind. This award recognizes the 4th AF maintenance organization that achieves the highest standards in safety and mission support while demonstrating ingenuity, mission accomplishment and maintenance excellence.

During the award period, the Grissom maintainers served as lead wing at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, in support of both Operation IRAQI FREEDOM and Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.

Being the lead unit for the mission, they built the maintenance procedures for all Air Force Reserve Command KC-135R units to follow, setting a high standard. During this time, they maintained a 94 percent mission capable rate on an average of 19.6 sorties (a sortie is defined as one mission or attack by a single plane) per aircraft with more than 200 maintainers deployed. (That equals the offload of nearly 12 million pounds of fuel.)

The unit blazed a trail with a new, paperless isochronal (recurring at regular intervals) inspection process for the KC-135R Stratotanker, meeting its target implementation date to go paperless. Despite numerous obstacles, they were able to improve the process to the point where fly-to-fly times were significantly reduced among the lead tanker units in AFRC. Fly-to-fly time is the amount of time it takes for an aircraft to land, go through the inspection and maintenance processes and return to flight, explained Col. Paul A. Weimer, 434th MG Commander, who accepted the award on behalf of the Indiana group.

The keynote speaker for the evening was Maj. Gen. John M. Howlett, Deputy Director, U.S. Strategic Command Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction, Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Maj. Gen. Howlett recognized and thanked the civilians at the dinner who have served this county. "We would not be able to do what we do if not for what you did."

The general spoke about the serious time we are in. He said we are a nation at war with an enemy who won't use conventional tactics - who won't wear a uniform. He said his job is to find out who they are, what their intent is and what their capabilities are. He said we need to knock down walls and get people to talk to each other, to figure out how we fund the tools that we need to get to our warfighters.

In closing, the general spoke about service and leadership.

"Serving is not about being in a uniform. Serving is about service to our nation - answering the call whenever that call is made" he said. "March Field has always been the leader and done it all. Leadership is a culture here in Riverside."

Prior to the group awards, Chief Master Sgt. Patricia A. Thornton, 4th AF Command Chief, presented individual awards to the 4th AF Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2008. "They represent the best of the best," she said.

Accepting the Airman of the Year award for the deployed Staff Sgt. (then SrA) Channel Bolton-Scholl, 446th Maintenance Squadron, McChord AFB, Wash., was Chief Master Sgt. Gloria Bennett, Command Chief, 446th Airlift Wing, McChord AFB, Wash.

Technical Sgt. Phillip M. Balson, 35th Combat Communications Squadron, 507th Air Refueling Wing, Tinker AFB, Okla., accepted the Non-commissioned Officer of the Year award with his wife, Jessica.

The Senior Non-commissioned Officer of the Year, Master Sgt. Cynthia Villa, 452nd Aeromedical Staging Squadron, 452nd Air Mobility Wing, March ARB, Calif., personally accepted her award.

Closing out the line-up was Senior Master Sgt. James Felton, Jr., 445th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 445th Airlift Wing, Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, who received his award for First Sergeant of the Year.

Ms. Jessica Gubaton sang the National Anthem a capella as the 4th AF Color Guard posted the colors. The color guard then performed the POW/MIA ceremony, which included six hats representing each of the five branches of the military and civilians.

The evening ended with a group sing-a-long of the Air Force Song.

(NOTE: Technical Sgt. Doug Hays, 434th ARW/PA contributed to this story.)