May 2006 
Volume 05, Issue 1 
Cover Story

Along for the ride

Boeing employees join record mission to bring back words and pictures

"It gets your attention on approach when the military personnel are putting on flak jackets and helmets, and you're sitting there in a polo shirt and jeans." That's one of the observations of Gary Lesser, communications manager of the C-17 program in Long Beach, Calif., after his first flight in the airlifter.

But Lesser's first trip in the C-17 wasn't just any flight. He and St. Louis videographer/photographer Kevin Flynn accompanied the historic million-hour mission on March 19 and 20. They were there to interview medical and military personnel, to cover the event for Boeing News Now and Boeing Frontiers, and to shoot footage for a video of the flight, "Million-Hour Mission: To Iraq and Back" (the video made its debut before 4,000 employees at Long Beach's "Thanks a Million" celebration on March 27). Lesser also served as a Boeing spokesman with external media aboard the flight, including crews from CNN, and ABC and NBC affiliates from Jackson, Miss., where the million-hour aircraft is based.

Flynn, with 25 years experience as a Boeing photographer including air-to-air photography in F-15s and F/A-18s, has logged many hours in fighter aircraft. But this flight also marked his first aboard a C-17.

After flying by commercial carrier to Frankfurt, the two joined the C-17 flight from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to Al Asad, Iraq, where the mission dropped off 43,000 pounds of cargo.

Lesser and Flynn said the landing was like none other they had experienced. The aircraft flew in and out in total darkness, and makes a steep, abrupt descent to avoid rockets, mortars and missiles.

"One of the most impressive things was that after we landed in Al Asad, within an hour they had unloaded the airplane and converted it to a hospital emergency room," Flynn said. "You'd never imagine it had been full of cargo an hour earlier."

Within 45 minutes, in fact, the crew left Al Asad to pick up wounded military personnel in Balad, Iraq, and then returned to Ramstein. During this last leg, Flynn shot footage of Lesser interviewing some of the patients.

After the patients had been evacuated to Ramstein and were on their way to nearby Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Lesser took the footage Flynn had shot and flew commercially back to Long Beach. Despite sleep deprivation, he began supervising the video editing and writing his news stories.

Meanwhile, from Germany, Flynn sent some of his still photos back to Boeing electronically, then joined the final leg of the flight, carrying patients back to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., en route to military hospitals.

"I have a whole new respect for the medical people that work in our armed services," Flynn said. "They are dedicated people."

Lesser agreed. "It was truly an honor to help escort wounded heroes out of a combat zone on a C-17," he said. "I have an immense appreciation for the flight and medical crews who bring these soldiers one step closer to a reunion with their families."

At a celebration of the flight in St. Louis, where components of the C-17 are built, Kevin Flynn presented his fellow Boeing employee and brother Brian Flynn with the hat he'd received to commemorate the historic mission.

Brian had a strong connection to the mission, too: He works in sheet metal fabrication and riveting of the C-17 ramps in St. Louis, and he was delighted to hear first-hand how the aircraft he helps builds performs in service.

"The [ U.S.] Air Force flight crew we met had nothing but praise for that airplane," Brian Flynn said. "They're not kidding when they say they like that airplane."

—Kathrine Beck



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