Be Unbelievable

  • Published
  • By by 1st Lt. Emily Rautenberg
  • 514th Air Mobility Wing

“Can you believe that you get paid to do this?” is something I often get asked by my supervisor, Lt. Col. Kimberly M. Lalley, Public Affairs Chief, 514th Air Mobility Wing.

Well, my recent trip with the wing felt pretty unbelievable.

I had the opportunity to accompany the 732nd Airlift Squadron on a trip to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. June 17, the museum hosted its annual “Innovations in Flight” event, a family day and outdoor aviation display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. The C-17, as well as other Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps aircraft, was on display during the airshow.

The day was a humid and sunny 90 degrees, but hundreds of people stood in line to see the C-17, ask questions, and take pictures with the aircrew. Despite the heat, lack of downtime, and endless barrage of questions, the crew remained responsive and engaging.

As reservists, we know that these weekend trips can be challenging. Outside the military, you have your civilian career, your family, your home. Attending drill weekends and taking annual tour can sometimes feel like an interruption of your day-to-day life.

That doesn’t stop any of these aircrew members from putting on a great show for the public, getting their own work done, and learning to bond as a group.

Staff Sgt. Sam Saracino, a crew chief currently working on his M.B.A., had a paper due at the end of the weekend. He worked diligently to finish it, and also made time to have dinner with the rest of the crew.

“The camaraderie is so important,” said Lt. Col. Kenneth C. Burch, 732nd Airlift Squadron director of operations.

Over the course of the weekend, it became obvious just how important building those relationships was to everyone. Every member of the crew loved being there and working together.

Maj Lee C. Schmeer, a pilot at the 732nd AS, started flying when he was in high school. Although flying has always been a passion of his, in the civilian world, he pursued a career in law instead.

“It doesn’t matter how big a case I win,” Schmeer said. “Nothing beats the feeling of flying home out of Afghanistan at the end of a mission.”

Tech Sgt. Steve Cabrera agreed, recalling the flares that go off in celebration.

Cabrera used to work in a graphic design position in the military and is now a loadmaster. While he enjoyed his old job on the “support” side, he finds much more fulfillment in his current role in “operations.” He likes knowing that his work directly and tangibly contributes to the mission, as well as matters to those around him.

It seemed like everyone I talked to wanted to share his passion of flying. They even tried recruiting me to leave Public Affairs and “join the dark side.”

“There’s a shortage of pilots,” said Burch. “Now’s the time to get in.”

I will admit that being a pilot or aircrew member is appealing, even to me.

While taxiing back to Dulles International Airport from the museum, the airport employees, who see planes every day, got out of their cars to take pictures. Sitting in the cockpit, I could see their wowed expressions as our C-17 wheeled by.

It was an unbelievable experience. And I got paid to do it.