What was supposed to be a quick trip, down and back, for hurricane relief for Puerto Rico, quickly changed into a three-day, 7,000-mile trek.
Air Force reservists from San Antonio's 433rd Airlift Wing left the city early Saturday. Their first stop was Colorado Springs, where they loaded two fuel tankers, a mobile command vehicle and large pallets of containers with supplies on a C-5M Galaxy aircraft.
Sunrise Sunday found this San Antonio crew of Citizen Airmen ready to lift off with 161,000 pounds of life-saving supplies. Pilot Peter Stipetech said the unit had no trouble finding team members willing to join this mission.
"Everyone was coming out of the woodwork to help as quickly as possible," Stipetech said.
Stipetech, who is serving in the 433rd like his father did, said choosing the local unit was a natural fit.
"I always wanted to fly," Stipetech said, while the C-5 cruised over the Gulf of Mexico at more than 30,000 feet and moving at more than 500 miles per hour.
"The best part is traveling around the world with guys who are like family and the humanitarian work is the icing on the cake," he said.
About 2,500 miles from their starting point, the team landed in storm-battered Puerto Rico, where the landscape is a uniform muddy brown mess, with virtually all the vegetation stripped from the trees.
"We're now going into an airport that's been closed for years," Stipetech said.
Their destination, a storm-tattered old airfield that is now roaring with relief efforts.
While some worked to muscle the rescue pods of relief off the C-5, nearby, a C-17 arrived with more supplies and Blackhawk helicopters buzzed the field as well.
"We're doing what needs to be done to get these guys supplies and equipment to bring Puerto Rico back as quickly as possible," Stipetech said.
Loadmasters predicted the offloading job would be done in two hours and at the hour and 40-minute mark, the last cargo pods rolled away from the plane.
The next stop for the 433rd is Tampa, Florida where Monday's manifest includes another life-saving load of relief.