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Civic leaders join McChord Airmen on local mission

McChord Air Force Base, Wash. -- On Oct. 18, local business and civic leaders got an up close and personal look at of what exactly goes on at McChord.

After a brief welcome from Col. Shane Hershman, 62nd Airlift Wing vice commander, 30 guests boarded two C-17 Globemaster IIIs for a local orientation flight -- instantly transforming them from regular civilians into Airmen for the day.

"This was an opportunity for us to bring community leaders out to the base and not just tell them but show them what our mission is all about," said Colonel Hershman, who helped explain the activity in the cockpit to the guests. "Inviting our civic leaders to see first-hand what our Airmen do on a daily basis helps them understand how important McChord is to the country's security."

Several passengers on board said the decision to accept the invitation was an easy one.

Denise Dyer, Pierce County economic development director, rescheduled three meetings that morning just for the opportunity to go on the flight. "In what I do for a living, both bases are extremely important to the Pierce County economy. Just getting to come out here and see it in action is great."

After takeoff, the C-17s rendezvoused with a KC-135 Stratotanker refueling jet out of Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., so passengers could experience an in-flight refueling. 

Two by two, each group took turns watching the action live from the cockpit, snapping pictures feverishly in the process.

"The best part was sitting up in the cockpit during the refueling," said Jim Lengenfelder, a guest on the flight from the Olympia Yacht Club. "At 300 mph to be that close to the boom that's 13 feet away -- that's pretty incredible."

Throughout the flight, passengers were able to walk around the cargo bay of the jet and check out the many features. The crew of three loadmasters took time to explain the different cargo setups the aircraft can accommodate and how each works.

As the C-17s turned south near Seattle to head back to McChord, the loadmasters opened the C-17's rear door, allowing passengers to get an unobstructed aerial view of the entire Puget Sound.