I recently had the opportunity to fly in a C-130 from Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery to MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida as part of a civic leader tour. The tour, hosted by the 908th Airlift Wing based at Maxwell, included about 30 Alabama business, political, and community leaders mostly from the River Region and Wiregrass. The purpose of the trip was to give Alabama leaders the opportunity to learn more about the mission and impact of the 908th Airlift Wing as well as the 927th Air Refueling Wing based at MacDill.
Established in 1963 at Bates Field in Mobile, the mission of the 908th Airlift Wing is to recruit, organize and train Air Force Reservists to provide theater airlift and flexible combat support across the spectrum of military operations. In 1969 the 908th was moved to Maxwell AFB in Montgomery and after several aircraft changes they now fly the C-130. The C-130 accommodates a wide variety of oversized cargo, including utility helicopters and six-wheeled armored vehicles. It also accommodates standard palletized cargo, up to 92 military personnel, 64 paratroopers and can convert to an Aeromedical platform, moving up to 74 patients on life saving missions.
This was my first time on a C-130 and the experience was fantastic. As stated, the C-130 is a cargo plane so this was not a luxury commercial flight. Typically passengers in the
C-130 fly in netted seats along the aircraft’s two outer walls. But for our trip commercial grade airline seats were placed inside of the plane. As we boarded we were each given earplugs as the C-130 is not heavily insulated and the interior noise level is high. Again, because of the lack of insulation it gets cool inside the aircraft, so long sleeves and jackets were a must. We were encouraged to take a pit stop prior to boarding, but were told, “the latrine will be lowered and a curtain hung in the event anyone needs a comfort break in flight.” I made it to Tampa fine, but had too much coffee prior to boarding for the return flight so I got to experience a most unique “comfort break”. Just imagine balancing on something the size of a TV tray, several feet off the ground, while surrounded by a shower curtain!
For take off I had the privilege of being seated in the cockpit of the plane. There were several military personnel in the cockpit manning the controls. We took off from Maxwell and flew west over Autauga County, we flew low over Wendland Farms in Autaugaville and enjoyed the view from above. Upon hitting our cruising altitude of about 22,000 feet the trip to Tampa took less than two hours.
Upon arriving at MacDill we were greeted by Alabama native Col. Randall Bright, Commander of the 927th Air Refueling Wing. Col. Bright briefed us on their mission at MacDill and being a good Alabamian he also talked a little SEC football. The next 24 hours were filled with base tours, static displays, Central Command and Special Operations Command briefings, and a tour of the MacDill air traffic control tower. There are at least half a dozen airports in the greater Tampa area so the skies stay busy. The exterior deck around the tower offered great views of downtown Tampa as well as St. Petersburg. A highlight of the tower tour was seeing the air traffic simulator and learning about the rigorous training necessary to become an air traffic controller for the Air Force.
There was not a wasted moment during our brief trip with the 908th. The trip was extremely well organized and executed. It was clear that the members of the 908th work very hard and take their jobs seriously, but they are also extremely proud of what they do. Commanded by Col. Adam Willis, the 908th is the best of the best and their contribution to Maxwell-Gunter and the entire River Region cannot be overstated.
The economic impact of a military base on the local economy is something most civilians do not fully appreciate. The total economic impact of the 908th Airlift Wing is $69.3 million per year. They have 1,199 total people of whom 192 are full time and the rest part-time traditional reservists.
Then if you expand the view and consider the impact of Maxwell-Gunter the numbers grow exponentially. The total impact of Maxwell-Gunter and all military missions and contractors in the River Region is $2.6 billion annually. Maxwell AFB has a payroll of $680 million and provides 24,500 jobs to include active, reserve, guard, Department of Defense civilians, and contractors that work on the installation.
Everyone in the River Region should be thankful that we have Maxwell-Gunter in our midst. But of course the benefit is far beyond economics. The men and women serving in uniform are working for all of us, to protect us, and that is a debt we can never repay. Every day as we are out and about in town we see uniformed military personnel – in our grocery stores, restaurants, churches, and businesses. Let us never see one of these men and women without thinking of the sacrifices they make on our behalf. Express your gratitude to them generously, teach your children about these heroes who are willing to die for our freedom, and never forget that we are the land of the free because of these brave men and women.
Ronda M. Walker is a member of the Montgomery County Commission.