TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE — Tech. Sgt. Patrick Wagnon said it was just part of his job.
But if the 60th Aerial Port Squadron noncommissioned officer didn’t push to get a B-52 vertical stabilizer flown to Guam, the damaged bomber that needed it would spend more weeks grounded.
“It was just my job to make the mission happen,” Wagnon said. “I knew that there was a downed B-52 in Guam. If it did not get fixed, it can’t do its job to protect our guys on the ground.”
Was it exciting, made-for-a-thriller work? No. But it was very vital bullets-and-beans duty.
It all started in late 2012 when a B-52 bomber at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, damaged its vertical stabilizer enough that it had to be replaced before it could fly again.
The replacement stabilizer was found and removed from a B-52 used for ground training at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., which was about to be decommissioned.
Workers at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., designed and built a transport cradle capable of carrying the replacement stabilizer safely aboard a C-5 Galaxy transport. They took an old B-52 stabilizer from Davis-Monthan’s aircraft boneyard and used it as a template around which they designed the custom carrier.
The cradle was trucked to Barksdale and the stabilizer was put on. It was then trucked west to Travis Air Force Base and the 60th Aerial Port Squadron to await a C-5 mission that would take it to Guam.
Put on a pallet, the entire thing weighed about 5,000 pounds and the stabilizer had to be canted at a near-perfect 45-degree angle to allow it to fit snugly into the only aircraft that could carry such a load, the C-5.
That’s where Wagnon entered the picture Feb. 19.
“I noticed it when it came in and I kept an eye on it while it was being palletized,” Wagnon said.
The stabilizer was supposed to fly out on a Fourth Air Force C-5 training mission to Guam by way of Hawaii, but the initial aircraft for the mission had maintenance problems. After the aircrew swapped to another aircraft, the stop at Travis dropped out of the picture.
When Wagnon, working in the Travis air terminal operations center as senior controller, heard about the change, he started asking why the aircraft was not coming to Travis to pick up the stabilizer.
The determined technical sergeant hit the phones, first calling the Air Mobility Command Tanker Airlift Control Center.
Since it was an Air Force Reserve mission, he was referred to the Fourth Air Force to get the stop at Travis added back to the mission – only to be told that the mission plans were already approved. Any change would have to be made by the aircraft commander, who was flying out of Texas.
Not put off, Wagnon got the aircraft commander’s cellphone number and got in touch with him 40 minutes before he was going to take off, Wagnon said.
“I explained the situation – that we don’t get a lot of C-5s going to Guam and the necessity of coming here (to pick up and deliver the stabilizer),” Wagnon said.
Wagnon even threw in a promise to meet the aircraft personally and provide the aircrew with refreshments, to which the pilot replied he had already decided to go to Travis when Wagnon explained his need, but wanted to hold out just a little bit longer to see what else he could get out of Wagnon.
“They went into crew rest when they arrived here and our guys loaded it the very next morning,” Wagnon said. “Once it was done, I didn’t think anything else about it. It was all a job done and let’s move on to the next thing.”
His boss, 60th Aerial Port Squadron commander Lt. Col. Michael Tiemann, called Wagnon’s persistence a great example “of the right people executing the mission” taking any measure to make it happen.
Tiemann pointed out that if Wagnon didn’t push, the stabilizer would have stayed at Travis until another C-5 mission was slated to fly to Guam, which is not common. Otherwise, a C-5 would have to have been specifically tasked to fly the part to Guam, which would cost the Air Force about $1.5 million.
Tiemann said it is people such as Wagnon in his command who ensure he doesn’t have to worry about seeing the job done, allowing the 60th Aerial Port Squadron to live up to its motto of “Deeds, not words.”
Wagnon describes himself as a small part of the crew that included those at Barksdale Air Force Base and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, who got the stabilizer to where it needed to be.
“I am just a small piece of the puzzle,” Wagnon said.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com.ithompsondr.