Making history... again, with all-female C-17 mission

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jessica Gross
  • 452 AMW Public Affairs

Female, Reserve Citizen Airmen assigned to the 729th Airlift Squadron and 452nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS) made history June 3, 2019, when embarked on a round-trip, Pacific mission as the first, all-female, C-17 Globemaster III aircrew in March Air Reserve Base’s 101-year history. Attending their send-off was local resident and legendary, 97-year-old, Women's Airforce Service Pilot Margo DeMoss, and 452nd Air Mobility Wing Commander, Col. Melissa Coburn. 

“I am so honored to be a part of this great moment in our wing’s history,” said Coburn to the aircrew. “I am so proud to know and have served with each of you. You will represent March well!”

During the week-long mission, many of the crew members fell ill, displaying flu-like symptoms, but being resilient and true professionals, and honoring an Air Force core value of “Service before Self,” they covered for each other as needed to complete the mission without delay.

“As a female maintainer, it is truly an honor and privilege to have been a part of this mission,” said Master Sgt. Jennifer Fleming, assistant section chief, 452 AMXS. “Being able to fly on the C-17 is awesome in itself, but to fly with an all-female crew speaks volumes to me.”

With prominent, pink and grey “Fly Like a Girl” morale patches donning their flight suits, the Pacific mission was initiated with a combined 196 years of service between the female crew; along with the women’s combined 32,520 flight hours, 4,118 of those being combat flight hours.

Their first stop was Travis Air Force Base, California, where they picked up some cargo before flying to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. From there, they executed the majority of their mission. Working together like a well-oiled machine, the women were able to transport cargo to the Kwajalein Atoll and Wake Islands in less time than the mission required.

Kwajalein Atoll and Wake Islands are well-known for their part in World War II history. For many members of the aircrew, experiencing these islands was a first-time event. But for Lt. Col. Jengi Martinez, 729 AS pilot and the mission’s aircraft commander, landing on the islands held a special meaning.

“My grandfather served in the Navy during WWII, and I remember him talking about being in the Pacific, specifically Wake Island,” said Martinez. “For me, visiting these places brings a smile as I fondly remember my grandfather, knowing he was proud of my service and excited for my adventures.”

Martinez explained that although the islands have a breath-taking view, the weather conditions can be demanding on an aircrew, and that the mission must always take priority and focus.

“When at these locations, you sometimes have limited, support resources and the heat can be brutal,” said Martinez. “Our loadmasters work extremely hard, as do our crew chiefs who also have to work outside in the inclement weather. That adds another layer of difficultly to their jobs.”

Upon return to home base, special recognition was afforded to two crew members for completing their final mission, their ‘fini-flight.’ Senior Master Sgt. Diana Perez and Fleming, both soon to retire, ended their combined 41 years of military service by being doused with a fire hose, courtesy of March Field Fire Emergency Services, and sprayed with champagne from their fellow aircrew when they stepped off the jet, a tradition for one’s ‘fini-flight.’

“The most enjoyable part of my career has been to be a part of something bigger than myself,” said Perez. “My retirement will be bittersweet, but I realize that my military experiences have led me to the person I am today. With that, I am eternally grateful.”

Historical note: The 729th Airlift Squadron was originally activated and designated as the 729th Bombardment Squadron in 1943. In its 76-year history, the squadron has gone through multiple mission assignments before housing the C-17 Globemaster III, primarily in 2005, and has had involvement in every U.S. war since 1943. In 1997, an all-female crew from the 729 AS flew a mission on a C-141 Starlifter, an historic flyover for the Women in Military Service for America’s dedication in Washington, D.C.