Typically deployed USAF air crews have crew names. These names are usually given because of some attribute of the crew, usually not complementary. Sometimes a crew will come up with a name on their own and the name sticks, if they’re lucky. This was the case on my last C-130 deployment. Some members of the crew commented on how old most of us were. We ranged from twenty-two to fifty-two, with most of us leaning toward the higher end of the scale. The junior load master, who was twenty-two at the time, averaged our ages and the result was 39. An other crew member said “Oh, we’re the 39’ers” and the rest as they say is history.
I designed a crew patch, which we proudly wore when flying and on the ground. The regulations state that unofficial patches are not authorized but we wore ours to the chow hall as a crew on a regular basis. Our aircraft commander was a Lt. Colonel so we could get away with stuff that the junior crews couldn’t.
The C-130 crew is an interesting entity. There are six members: aircraft commander, copilot, navigator, flight engineer, and two load masters. The typical pairings are the two pilots, navigator and flight engineer and the two load masters. This crew was no exception to that unwritten rule. But we took it even further. For the two months that we were deployed the six of us were attached at the hips. Our navigator, Will, and I were considered desert lovers. We were always together. We played right into everyone teasing us about it. They did have reason to suspect some thing was up between us, as we were always together.
There were four of us that started our day at the Green Bean. We got our coffee and then walked to The Bra. We would then go to the chow hall, as a crew, for breakfast. After breakfast Will and I would workout. The whole crew was there at the same time but Will and I would work out together.
We would start with the weight room. We’d lift for about an hour or so. We were doing an eight week work out plan, I think it was called Shortcut to Shred. Neither of us got so shred. After lifting we would hit the treadmill. By this time it was about a hundred degrees outside. I would run three miles on the treadmill then I’d run a final mile outside on the track. People thought I was crazy. Maybe I was, just a bit. I had to keep up with Will, he was eighteen years younger than I.
After that we would have lunch. Back to the Chow hall. I should mention that when we would say “chow hall” out loud we were corrected by whoever was in listening distance. The proper name is DFAC, short for dining facility. While deployed many people think that it is their job to correct others, even if that person out ranked them. Our crew was always getting corrected, we just laughed about it.
Back to the Green Bean for our afternoon coffee break. We were only flying every third day or so, we had a very light flying schedule. We would usually drink our afternoon coffee inside The Bean, it was triple digits or close to it outside. Next Will and I would go to the pool for our afternoon swim. The pool was chilled to eighty-five degrees. Who would have thought, a chilled pool. We would then take our afternoon walk, going to one of the many concessions on base doing what’s call a shelf check in the military.
At least once a week we would get a car and drive into Doha, the capital city of Qatar. Of course we would go as a crew, the six of us would pile into a minivan. We were one, big happy family. We never had any drama between us. We might’ve had issues with other crews or scheduling but we got along great.
We had some amazing meals together while in Qatar. We avoided the western franchises in favor for the local fare. We usually ate at restaurants where we sat on pillows on the floor. After dinner we would wander around the Souq Waqif, a traditional market with hundreds of vendors selling everything from clothes to spices. I bought a few very cool prayer clocks. I usually don’t smoke but Will and I would share a hooka with apple or cherry tobacco. Of course there would be more coffee. I was even able to drag the crew to the Museum of Islamic Art, the building was designed by I.M. Pei. The collection is amazing and the structure was over the top.
If Will or I were not together others would ask if we were having a lovers quarrel. I’d say that I either wore him out or that he was tied up in my room. We would take turns at being the bitch. We had fun at each others expense and loved it.
All of our shenanigans were in contrast to the missions that we were flying. We flew into Bagdad as the city was about to fall to ISIL. We could see the Iraqi Army lined up on the bridges and the advancing ISIL troops with their converted Toyotas approaching the city. At night we flew blacked out. Wearing NVGs, night vision googles, to see. Under the NVGs we could clearly see the fire fights on the ground as we flew over. We made trips to Djibouti, Jordan and Afghanistan. Places I never thought I would I would see.
For my final C-130 deployment it was pretty cool. I was with a great crew and we made the best of what could’ve been a not so great experience. I’ve moved and I’m with a different unit now, flying the C-5. It’s a different experience, no comparison. I think of the 39’ers and I’m glad of the memories that I have from those sixty-eight days we shared.