Airmen provide presidential support in Moscow

Story and photos by Master Sgt. Scott Wagers
Defense Media Activity-Europe

Two H-model C-130s from Ramstein hauled a 17-member presidential support team, 10 portable light carts and a utility truck to Moscow’s Vnukovo International Airport July 3 in preparation for President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit to the region.

Planning the travel route for the 10-hour round trip flight would normally be a routine task for veteran flyers, however, C-130H Aircraft Commander Capt. Zac Johnson said military aircraft haven’t made the trip into Russia’s capital city for quite some time.

“When we looked at all our products to prepare for this mission, the last account we had of a crew coming out (to Moscow) was from a DC-10 mission 10 years ago. So nobody knew what to expect,” he said.

But once the pair of Hercules touched down at the oldest of Moscow’s three operating airports, the 37th Airlift Squadron crew commented that the support was awesome, the facilities were excellent and that help was given where it was needed.
While fuel trucks were being vectored in to top off the planes, Airmen on the presidential support team began pairing with aircrew to unload cargo.

Within 30 minutes, the planes were empty and Capt. William Taylor, the presidential support team’s detachment chief, began focusing on preliminary coordination for the commander in chief’s arrival. It’s a mission that Captain Taylor said was “very normal” for members of the 86th Contingency Response Group, but no less special.
“It is definitely awesome to be a part of something that is bigger than just yourself and to also be a part of making history,” he said.

The presidential support team, comprised of Airmen representing eight different career field specialties, brought communications capabilities, ground security for Air Force One, maintenance, air transportation and even an airfield manager who speaks Russian.

Tech. Sgt. Shawn Smith said he studied Russian in both high school and college and had previously traveled to Moscow to conduct a site survey for an air show in 2007.
“I’m excited. This is a high profile mission and a unique opportunity,” he said.

The opportunity was also unique for Captain Johnson, a three-year veteran C-130 pilot with only 17-hours of stick time as the aircraft commander. As the 37th Airlift Squadron transitions from the H to the J-model C-130, the pool of experienced H-model pilots is thinning out. Captain Johnson said that while this increases the workload on H-model aviators, it also creates unique opportunities. 

“A year ago in our squadron, you would never see a brand new aircraft commander fly a mission into Moscow, let alone a presidential support mission. I’m lucky I have the chance to do this,” he said.