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News | April 24, 2020

Bringing Them Home

By 2nd Lt. Kiara Spann, 172d Airlift Wing

THOMPSON FIELD, JACKSON, Miss. – Imagine getting the ride of your life. U.S. Citizens seeking to return home amid the Coronavirus pandemic got just that when a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III, assigned to the 172nd Airlift Wing, brought them back home.

Approximately 90 U.S. citizens who were previously unable to return home from South America, were transported to Duke Field, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

The mission is part of an ongoing interagency effort led by the U.S. State Department to assist American citizens unable to return home from countries around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This has been a difficult time for the entire world,” said Maj. Jimmy Balcom, a pilot assigned to the 183rd Airlift Squadron, “our crew was able to provide a crucial service which directly impacted not only our passengers but all of the family members that were waiting for their return.”

The aircrew of six had only a few days to prepare for their departure. “We didn’t know the locations until the morning of departure,” said Balcom, “and even then, locations changed as the mission progressed.” Amid the crisis, the aircrews took extra precautions to prepare for their trip such as packing extra water and food.

The mission spanned the course of two days. On the first day, 48 American citizens were transported from Bogota, Colombia. On the second day, 42 American citizens were transported from Panama.

“Every one of the citizens was grateful to have a ride,” said Balcom. “The entire crew felt that if anyone was going to support this mission, we wanted it to be us.”

These missions are just another way the 172nd Airlift Wing accomplishes its vision “to be the most responsive, resourceful, and respected airlift wing in the nation” and is referred to as The Wings of the Deep South.

Once the citizens deplaned the aircraft, they were screened and bused to a local hotel to begin the rest of their journey.