TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Mothers and fathers look forward to the birth of a child, especially their first. Many military fathers miss the birth of a child because they are serving thousands of miles away supporting missions all over the world.
On July 9, 1986 a C-5 flight engineer was on his first mission after completing technical training. The father-to-be was waiting in his room at McChord Air Force Base, Washington, for word on the next mission when a knock came on his door.
“Get your stuff packed up quickly, we have to return to Travis ASAP,” said the aircraft commander, then Capt. William Boyd. “Your wife just went into labor and we’re getting you back before your son is born.”
Retired Chief Master Sgt. Bryan Burns, 60th Operations Support Squadron aircrew training systems contracting officer’s representative, was a staff sergeant that day and he was nearly 722 miles away from Travis Air Force Base, California, where his wife, Roxann, was in labor.
In about five minutes Bryan packed his belongings, ran downstairs, checked out of lodging and found himself on a bus with his 12-man crew headed to the C-5 that would transport him to Travis.
Upon arriving at the aircraft the crew quickly began completing preflight checks while Boyd escorted Bryan to the 62nd Airlift Wing command post where a phone-patch to David Grant USAF Medical Center’s Labor and Delivery room was set up.
“The nurse assisting my wife asked how long it would be until we landed,” Bryans said. “I started rattling off estimates for preflight times, cargo, passengers, final-fuel, checklists and flying time not to mention putting the plane to bed after arrival. She said there was no way my wife could delay that long based on the frequency of her contractions, so we should just do the best we could and I’d meet my son after we landed.”
At that moment, Roxann’s contractions were less than five-minutes apart and doctors believed the couple’s first son would enter the world before Bryan could make it home.
“I was sad when I thought of Bryan not being there, but the nurse told me she was communicating with the aircrew and giving me and Bryan updates,” Roxann said. “I was hopeful he would make it.”
Burns glanced out of the command post window and noticed the number one engine on the C-5 beginning to spin and roar to life. Shortly after…the number two engine fired up.
“I told the labor and delivery nurse there’s a chance we could be airborne in the next few minutes and on our way,” Burns said. “She responded with excitement, ‘this could work.’”
Normally it takes about two-hours to preflight a C-5 for a mission. This includes a thorough inspection of all systems on the aircraft, numerous data calculations, cargo on-load and offload and much more.
“The crew sub-divided all the pre-departure tasks and readied the plane in record time,” Bryan said. “A crew flying a Travis C-141 departing after us said they’d take passengers and cargo so we could expedite our departure. By the time I ran across the flightline to the aircraft, all four engines were running and the flight engineer informed me I was going to sit in the jump seat between the two pilots because he had patched the radios through Travis Command Post to DGMC’s labor and delivery room.”
Boyd, now a retired major and a pilot for United Airlines, said he was determined to get Bryan home.
“Taking care of families is number one in my book,” Boyd said. “We’re all family, we all work together and if the Air Force didn’t take care of families things would become much more difficult than they are.”
“We had the opportunity to get him home and as a single parent at the time, I felt strongly that family comes first,” he added. “We were only a couple hundred miles away, knew we could get him there in time and (Bryan) was excited about his son.”
The DGMC Labor and Delivery team kept Bryan informed of how things were going during the 1.5-hour flight while Boyd coordinated to have a car ready to drive Bryan to the hospital shortly after landing.
Roxann was minutes away from delivering just before the C-5 touched down at Travis. Bryan knew he had to hurry.
Once the aircraft landed and came to a complete stop, the flight engineer opened the crew entrance door and Bryan quickly exited the aircraft, sprinted to a blue sedan and sped off toward DGMC.
“Friends and relatives were waiting at every door and hall way to direct me to the room where my wife was,” Bryan said. “When I finally arrived at the right location, I saw the very top of my son’s head. The nurse threw scrubs at me and said, ‘You have 60 seconds to get them on and follow us to delivery.’”
Three minutes later Bryan and Roxann welcomed their son Matthew into the world. He was born at 9 p.m. after six hours of labor and weighed 9 pounds.
“It was such a beautiful thing and amazing effort for the crew to get Bryan home,” Roxann said. “I never would’ve imagined that would ever happen, I’m eternally grateful for Captain Boyd and his aircrew. What they did was amazing.”
The crew members who helped Bryan get home just in time delivered champagne, balloons, teddy bears and flowers to the proud new parents.
“Boyd asked each crew member to line up shoulder-to-shoulder as he lifted Matthew from his basket, placed a tiny Military Airlift Command (now Air Mobility Command) patch on his blanket and handed him ceremoniously down the line,” Burns said. “They worked so hard to ensure I would be there for the birth of my son.”
Everyone wanted to meet the new baby and congratulate the Burns family, Boyd said.
“I gave him my squadron patch from my flight suit. We give away our squadron patches as keepsakes, so I thought it would be a nice way for the Burns family to remember that day,” he added.
When Bryan reflects on the events of that day and that special moment he shared with his crew and his wife of nearly 32 years, he said he’s thankful for every Airman who went above and beyond for him and his family.
“I’ve often thought about the fantastic events of that day, when a team of people I just met did everything they could for a stranger with no more in common than a simple red and blue kangaroo squadron patch,” Bryan said. “I thought about the leadership qualities of Captain Boyd who achieved the impossible, never doubting for a moment that it was going to happen regardless of mounting obstacles stacking up along the way.”
“I thought about the many men and women, just voices on the radio from transportation, maintenance, air traffic control, command post and David Grant Medical Center, doing everything they could to help because we were all part of the same great Air Force,” Bryan said. “These amazing people extended themselves further than anyone had a right to expect all because we were part of the same team. It was the Air Force doing what the Air Force does best, taking care of its people.”
Matthew went on to join the Air Force and is now a staff sergeant serving as a KC-10 Extender flight engineer with the 79th Air Refueling Squadron at Travis. His brother Joshua, also served in the Air Force as a KC-10 boom operator with the 6th ARS at Travis.