Honoring Sen. Byrd

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Phyllis E. Keith
  • 130th Airlift Wing
The 130th Airlift Wing deployed to the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, June 30 to July 2, to conduct military honors and state funeral operations in honor of Sen. Robert C. Byrd who passed away June 28.
Col. Timothy L. Frye, Wing Commander of the 130th AW, said that by June 29, it became obvious the 130th AW was going to be a major player in Sen. Byrd's memorial service and state funeral.
"We were the lead unit for transportation, reception and movement," said Col. Frye.
Senior Master Sgt. Robin S. Willis, noncommissioned officer in charge of logistics plans with the 130th Logistics Readiness Squadron, said 223 airmen from the 130th AW were tasked with duties.
Seventy-four were tasked for the ceremonial portion, said Col. Frye.
The process of assigning personnel to be flag bearers, cordon, casket guards, pallbearers and other honor guard duties was hectic, but after logistics filled the tasking it went smoothly, said Senior Master Sgt. Willis.
Col. Frye said he activated the crisis action team, June 30, and the CAT conducted 24-hour operations to manage phone calls and coordinate with the Army National Guard and the state administration at the West Virginia State Capitol.
The 130th AW's specific responsibility was the aircraft flow, said Col Frye.
Senior Master Sgt. John D. Carroll, senior flight engineer with 130th Airlift Squadron, said aircrews flew some of the unit's C-130H3 Hercules aircraft to the 167th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg, W.Va., because the 130th AW needed the ramp space for the aircraft carrying the dignitaries who were scheduled to fly into Charleston for Sen. Byrd's state funeral at the Capitol, July 2.
Anytime the president comes in, the maintenance squadron has to make space on the ramp because Air Force One cannot be blocked, said Tech. Sgt. Adam C. Harper, a crew chief with the130th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
"The president has to be able to get out no matter what," he said.
In addition, the huge C-17 Globemaster aircraft that carried the president's limousines and the Secret Service's sport utility vehicles needed extra space on the ramp so the aircraft could turn and taxi, he said.
Tech. Sgt. Harper said the placement and timing of aircraft were part of the crew chiefs' normal job, but when VIPs came in, crew chiefs had the added task of accommodating the needs of the Secret Service and the press corps.
"We have never had that many senators, congressmen, members of the cabinet in one place. Someone made the comment, 'Washington, D.C. deployed to Charleston.' For all practical purposes, that was pretty true," said Col. Frye.
Aircrew from the 130th AW flew a C-130 to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., July 1, to pick up Sen. Byrd's remains and transport them back to Charleston for the procession to the Capitol.
"Two aircraft departed to Andrews," said Lt. Col. Scott Lowe, chief of standards and evaluation, 130th Operations Group. One aircraft was the backup in case the primary aircraft broke, he said.
Maj. Todd J. Perry, aircraft commander, 130th Operations Group, flew the C-130 transport plane that carried Sen. Byrd's remains and his family, said Lt. Col. Lowe.
Senior Airman Matthew Woods, a member of the 130th Base Honor Guard was a pallbearer for Sen. Byrd.
"We carried the casket from the plane to the hearse. We had a full cordon of West American and West Virginia state flags," he said.
After Sen. Byrd's remains were offloaded from the aircraft, Maj. Perry took off in the same C-130, and joined three C-130s that were flying in a holding pattern outside of Charleston, waiting to execute a flyby over the Capitol, said Lt. Col. Lowe.
The three aircraft had to fly from Martinsburg to Charleston, form up and circle around for awhile, said Senior Master Sgt. Carroll.
"We were in the air for a couple of hours," he said.
"The flyby itself was difficult to get approved," said Col. Frye. "We finally did see approval from the Secretary of the Air Force to do it, and it was executed flawlessly. Lt. Col. Lowe was the flight lead on it. He executed a picture perfect four-ship missing man formation with the C-130."
Lt. Col. Lowe said, "We were expected to cross over the ceremony at the conclusion of the national anthem, which was a timing issue. We were doing a nonstandard formation, and maintaining contact with the ground was difficult."
Because we were flying a tighter than normal formation, it was mentally tougher for my wingmen who had to maintain constant vigilance, he said.
He said Chief Master Sgt. Brian L. Pritt of the 130th Aerial Port Squadron was on the ground using a line-of-sight radio to give them status updates.
Chief Master Sgt. Pritt gave him a cue when the band started playing the national anthem, said Lt. Col. Lowe.
Lt. Col. Lowe said he'd like to thank his wingmen. "They were constantly making adjustments to the attitude and the speed of their aircraft to stay in position; it's much more challenging to fly the wing, and they did a great job."
"The last aircraft rolled out and turned off the formation to represent the missing man," said Senior Master Sgt. Carroll.
He said the last aircraft was flown by Maj. Perry who had transported Sen. Byrd's remains from Andrews AFB, Md.
"It was right on time," said Senior Airman Woods, who stood on the steps of the Capitol with the honor guard, waiting for the cue to move Sen. Byrd's casket to the rotunda.
"The other big component was the ceremonial portion, and getting people to the right place," said Col. Frye.
He said the 130th AW split ceremonial duties, 50-50, with the Army National Guard.
"It was an incredible cooperative effort," said Col. Frye.
The pallbearers had a short window of time to practice for the State funeral, July 2, Senior Airman Woods said. They used the steps at the Army National Guard armory in Charleston to replicate the steps of the Capitol.
"It was a huge joint effort between Army and Air," said Senior Airman Woods.
He said the pallbearers took the casket out of the rotunda in the Capitol where Sen. Byrd was lying in repose.
"We brought it down the stairs, and the president, and almost the entire United States government was there waiting," he said.
Col. Frye said the majority of the VIP planes landed July 2, within ten minutes of each other.
"Within a very short period of time, we were able to bring in a large number of aircraft--the 757 the President came in on, two G-5s, three C-9s, a C-40, multiple helicopters, and multiple C-17s," said Col. Frye.
"For us, that was one of the big events--putting the air flow package together, getting a plan for the arrival and departure of all those airplanes," said Col. Frye.
The 130th AW received kudos from the Secret Service and Air Force One staff for the smooth flow of traffic, said Col Frye.
Tech. Sgt. Adam C. Harper said the Secret Service told them that working with the airmen at the 130th AW was the easiest detail they've had because the airmen accommodate their needs and think ahead by getting the ramp cleared of extra equipment.
There's a lot of stress on the Secret Service when they're in an environment they can't control, said Tech. Sgt. Harper. Everything has to be checked for bombs, he said.
Maintenance did an outstanding job catching all these airplanes, getting them to the right parking spot, and working with the Secret Service, said Col. Frye.
"Everybody came together and did a fantastic job without any prior planning or specific training for a state funeral of this magnitude," said Col. Frye.
Senior Airman Woods, a native of West Virginia who was raised in Kentucky, said he could really see what Sen. Byrd meant to the state of West Virginia.
"I was proud to be part of that," he said.
"From all the crew members, we appreciated the privilege to do that for the late Senator because of all that he's done for us," said Lt. Col. Lowe.