For weeks, the 433rd Airlift Wing of the Air Force Reserve Command has been delivering massive amounts of relief supplies to hurricane-ravaged areas.
For many who fly the giant C-5M Galaxy airplanes out of Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland, serving is a family tradition.
They fondly call their unit the “Alamo Wing” and theirs are stories of generational dedication.
Major Nick Reinhardt, a pilot who has been serving 12 years, said his devotion to the Air Force started early.
“I think it was about age 4 or 5, sitting on Dad’s shoulders at an air show. Luckily I never really had the problem of figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, so, and here we are.”
Master Sgt. Michael Lopez is a Loadmaster who was born and raised in San Antonio. He is a graduate of John F. Kennedy High School, just a stone’s throw from the headquarters of his beloved 433rd. He calls himself the ‘old man’ of the group, with 32 years of service.
“It was actually my Dad. I told him I wanted to fly as an enlisted. It was either go to school or join the military and I ended up join the military,” Lopez said.
Lopez relied on his dad’s firsthand experience.
“He did 26 years in the guard next door, so he knew what was going on,” Lopez said.
Major Peter Stipetich is a pilot who followed his father’s path of service. He now has 14 years on this job he loves.
“My father, I kind of followed in his footsteps. He actually used to be in this unit as a test pilot and I grew up in San Antonio when I was a child,” Stipetich said.
Staff Sgt. Joshua Green said “I have an uncle that did it for 22 years in the Air Force. He told me about it all the time growing up and I decided I would give it a try.”
Green is a Loadmaster with four years of service to his credit. He said being able to learn from the more seasoned veterans on the crew is a great advantage.
“That’s why I have these guys with me here. There the ones that help me out when things get tough,” Green said.
Senior Airman Antonio Farias, with just over two years on the job, said he loves his job as a Crew Chief.
“I liked working with stuff with my Dad already, working on trucks and tractors and everything so I went to the recruiter and went through the list of everything and kind of knew I wanted to do this,” Farias said.
The graduate of San Antonio’s Health Careers High School said his 440,000-pound airplane has lots of moving parts to care for, but he knows his team is more than capable. “She likes to break a lot but, you know, we like to fix her!” Farias said.
Flight Engineer and Staff Sgt. Eric Ganley said he has nine years of service, so far.
“I did six years of active duty so that I could transfer to the reserves to do this job.”
Major A.J. Lewton said “The flying bug caught me in high school and I’ve been working on flying ever since.” It’s a bug that has been in his system for 14 years.
Tech Sgt. Michael Saldana is looking back on 21 years. The Crew Chief and Hydraulic Technician said he enjoys all the different aspects of keeping the Galaxy in the air.
“You’re responsible for all the general maintenance that goes on with the aircraft, so anything like re-fueling, servicing the engines, hydraulic fluid, oxygen, liquid nitrogen. We check the tires and the tire pressure, just making sure everything is working the way it’s supposed to work,” Saldana said.
Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Foerster is a Loadmaster who was on active duty for nine years and then joined the reserves. Now, he has almost thirty years of service.
“The 433rd is a great group of people that come together to help,” Foerster said.
Like many who devote hours to the cause, Foerster proudly calls himself a Reserve Citizen Airman.
The hours he invests in the 433rd are over and above the time he spends running a heavy equipment construction firm in Giddings, Texas with five employees.
While Foerster is away serving America, his employees must pick up the slack and make do without him.
When it comes to making a positive impact in the world, Foerster said he knows his choice is right.
“What makes this world go in harmony is people helping people and I hope I can do a little part, you know, with the military to help people down there in Puerto Rico. I mean, that’s what makes the world go round,” Foerster said.
Senior Master Sgt. Robert Reyes has logged over 38 years in the reserves and he said he has his heart and soul in the 433rd.
“I love aviation. I love flying. It’s a lot of fun. It’s challenging, but it’s a lot of fun,” Reyes said.
Reyes said one welcome change over the years has been the advantage of technology.
“We used to carry 40 pounds of books on every flight. You can’t remember everything and that’s what we needed for reference. Now everything is on an iPad and it makes it much easier to access the information that we need,” Reyes said.
Lt. Col. J.C. Miller is a well-respected leader on this team, earning high marks from those he commands. Miller said growing through the reserves has been a powerful learning experience.
“It’s very uplifting. I started this when I was 17-years-old in the Air Force Reserves and they gave me an opportunity to go to college and get a commission and go to pilot training, so it’s been a great experience for me.”
Miller said as a young man working on a family farm in the Texarkana area, he saw military aircraft overhead and never expected to be able to command one.
“I saw A-10s and never thought I would sit in a cockpit. I thought ‘That’s got to be somebody special,’ but I joined the reserves and you get surrounded by people that are willing to lift you up, so it really made a big difference in my life to do that,” Miller said.
Referring to the current difficulties in America and the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Miller said he is still exceptionally proud to serve.
“So we have this abundance of freedom and an abundance of the ability to speak your mind and if you want to protest something, you can protest it, but the end result is how do you take that forward and how do you make it better? And this is a group of people that do that every day. They make it better,” Miller said.
Miller said having seasoned veterans and younger personnel on his crew makes for a great mix.
“This mission dropped in 12 hours. Boom. Hey. We can go do this mission. We had four inches of cargo clearance in an airplane that moves 500 miles an hour? You’ve got to get it just so, so it doesn’t jostle. Not everybody can do that and these folks just do it like it’s no big deal because they’ve been doing it,” Miller said “Then they’re teaching the young guys to do it and it instills confidence in the young guys. ‘Hey if they are showing me how to do this, I can do this later on in life.’ And so that’s why I say the nation is in good hands.”
Looking back on 31 years of service and looking forward to the future of his country, Miller said “I think one of the things people worry about is ‘What’s the path that American is going to go down?’ Or ‘What’s it going to be like in the future?’ When you get to meet these people and see that dedication to duty, honor, country, you realize hey, freedom will always reign because you have individuals like this willing to sacrifice and protect that, so that their kids, their grandkids and so on and so forth have an opportunity to basically reap the benefits of what this great nation offers.”