What could have been a 3-day trek across 2,150 miles of interstate highway was shortened to one overnight delivery by Air National Guard C-130H Hercules aircraft joining Illinois’ fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two aircrews assigned to the 182nd Airlift Wing departed their Peoria air base for the west coast April 7 to transport 250 medical isolation pods from its Oregon manufacturer to Chicago Midway International Airport the next day. The negative-pressure tents are planned for use in the alternative medical facility assembled inside Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center. Transporting them fit the C-130’s tactical airlift mission set, which allows for a wide variety of oversized cargo and flexible design configurations.
“[The C-130] is the workhorse of the fleet. It’s been reliable since the 1950’s, and our crews and our maintenance professionals are the best in the business,” said Air Force Maj. Justin Childers, a C-130H mobility pilot with the 169th Airlift Squadron who flew on the airlift mission. “We got the people there, we got the airplanes ready to go, and we went off and executed it. The Guard motto about ‘Always Ready’ is absolutely true.”
The negative pressure pods delivered by the Peoria aircrews are essentially 10-foot by 10-foot sealed cubicles accompanied with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration systems, said Nathan Neckles, a technical sales manager with the pod manufacturer. The pods will allow medical professionals to work with patients in a contained space using cleaned, recirculated air, thus helping prevent the coronavirus from spreading further.
Childers said that while airlift and airdrop is what they do every day, such a high-visibility operation is not always as common.
“It felt really good just to know we’re helping get those supplies, so that if this thing spikes, [Illinois] can be more prepared for it,” he said. “I’m glad we got to go do it. I really am.”
While the Air National Guard operates to be the proven choice for the war fight and the enduring choice for security cooperation with foreign allies, its primary mission is to be the first choice in supporting homeland operations at the direction of the state’s governor and adjutant general.
“We fight America’s war, but as the National Guard, we’re also here for our communities,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Richard Neely, the adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard, in an April 8 interview with Chicago’s WBBM-TV. “So, this is the most rewarding mission we could possibly have, is to help our neighbors when they’re in need.”
According to the Air National Guard, the service’s homeland defense mission provides life-saving capabilities to local communities and the country during greatest times of need in the event of national emergencies as a result of natural or manmade disasters. More than 80 Airmen from the 182nd Airlift Wing providing a variety of specialized services are currently mobilized in support of the Illinois state active duty effort against the coronavirus pandemic.