Swap in, swap out – McChord Airmen deploy to Al Udeid

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Tryphena Mayhugh
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Every Airman has their own story about deploying, whether they’re about to retire and haven’t deployed once or a junior Airman deploying for the third time in three years.

At McChord Field, Airmen from the 62nd Airlift Wing, along with other C-17 Globemaster III bases within Air Mobility Command, are sent on a rotation to be a part of the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, in what is known as the EAS Swap Out.

“The 816th is a melting pot of all the C-17 units in AMC and PACAF,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Patrick McLaughlin, 816 EAS Commander.  “The swapout process requires a ton of teamwork and synchronization amongst not only the 816th, but with dozens of agencies across the C-17 community as well as our host wing, the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing. "Periodically throughout the year, the expeditionary squadron receives a turnover of pilots, loadmasters, flying crew chiefs, Ravens, communications and intelligence Airmen. It’s an exhausting week-long process for the air crew doing the swap, but brings new Airmen with fresh eyes and spirit to continue the 816 EAS mission while bringing home the ones who carried the mantle before them.

“Swapout’s are great,” McLaughlin said, “because half of the squadron is excited to get here and get after the mission, while the other half is excited to get home and share their sense of accomplishment with those they love.”

Despite a 16-hour long day travelling from the east coast of the U.S. to Al Udeid, no time is wasted getting the new deployers in-processed and spun up on the mission they will need to accomplish over the next several months.

“Once the new folks arrive, they get in-processed the following day,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Scott Salamony, 816th EAS first sergeant. “Over the next three days, there’s a little on-the-job training. Some of the people who just got here are already getting ready to fly [the next day]. That’s just how we get them spun up on the operations over here.”

Deploying can be a nerve-wracking experience, but this iteration had a married couple from the 8th AS deploying at the same time. U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Grant Smart, 8th AS operations flight chief, who is on his fourth deployment, is accompanied by his wife, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Dixie Smart, 8th AS loadmaster, who is deploying for the first time.

“I was a spouse before I joined, so I’ve been on the other side of the deployment.” said Senior Airman Smart. “This is my first time deploying as active duty. I was a little nervous, I’m not going to lie. [Having someone who has deployed before], it’s alleviated a lot of stress.”

According to McLaughlin, if Senior Airman Smart remembers everything she learned at McChord, she won’t have anything to worry about while deployed at Al Udeid.

“The training these Airmen receive at home station is critical in preparing them for the pace and diversity of mission they can expect to execute while out here,” McLaughlin said.  “We’re entering into a new era of operations that will require these folks to remain adaptable and pliable—and from what I’ve seen, every one of them is up to the challenge.”

The 816th EAS plays a vital role in operations undertaken in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and more by providing airlift capabilities.

“Our entire mission is to provide intra-theater airlift within [Allied Forces Central Europe],” Salamony said. “Seventy percent of the airlift comes through here.”

Having completed their mission, the deployers returning home have a few long days ahead of them, but at the end they will be able to see their friends and families and sleep in their own beds knowing they accomplished something.

“I hope all the C-17 bases back home understand how vital they are to feeding the fight and that the 816 EAS has only succeeded because of their efforts,” McLaughlin said. “When we are called to execute combat airlift, we represent the entire C-17 community—and that’s what makes deploying out here such a special opportunity.”

The new deployers will have to fill the shoes of those heading home and look forward to the day when McChord Airmen participate in the swap out once again to bring them home.