A C-17 Globemaster from McChord Air Force Base ferried response teams to Louisiana on Saturday ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Gustav.
The massive jet left shortly after midnight, picked up members and cargo from the 615th Contingency Response Wing at Travis Air Force Base in California and then landed at Louis Armstrong International Airport in suburban New Orleans.
It returned to McChord by mid-afternoon. The aircraft commander expects his crew will be sent to the Gulf Coast again, as early as today.
"It’ll be a matter of whether we can get in and out before the hurricane hits, or if we have to wait until after it hits," said Maj. Michael Maguire of the 10th Airlift Squadron, 62nd Airlift Wing.
Maguire said he has been regularly checking the latest weather forecast on his phone – he updated his crew during their bus ride away from the flight line after they returned Saturday – and realized several days ago that they’d likely be helping in some way.
The early response from across the country is an effect of Hurricane Katrina devastation of New Orleans, Maguire said. The crew was alerted at about 10 p.m. Friday.
"It’s changed the mindset of a lot of us, in the military and out," he said.
As the C-17 descended over southeastern Louisiana, the cockpit crew could see lines of cars as residents evacuated – a sight that reminded the crew’s most junior member of Katrina.
"I just remember all the traffic jams coming out of the city," described 24-year-old Lt. Toni Harrell after completing the first mission of her career. "Flying in, it seemed like it was the same over again."