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Behind the scenes: Last Pittsburgh C-130 airdrop

Members of the 911th Airlift WIng watch as a C-130 Hercules flies over the Starvaggi Drop Zone near Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, April 17, 2018. This was the last cargo drop performed by a C-130 assigned to the 911th AW, marking the end of an era prior to their transition to the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo by Richard Oram)

Members of the 911th Airlift WIng watch as a C-130 Hercules flies over the Starvaggi Drop Zone near Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, April 17, 2018. This was the last cargo drop performed by a C-130 assigned to the 911th AW, marking the end of an era prior to their transition to the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo by Richard Oram)

A C-130 Hercules flies over the Starvaggi Drop Zone near Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, April 17, 2018. Members aboard this aircraft were performing the last cargo drop performed by a C-130 assigned to the 911th Airlift Wing, marking the end of an era prior to their transition to the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo by Richard Oram)

A C-130 Hercules flies over the Starvaggi Drop Zone near Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, April 17, 2018. Members aboard this aircraft were performing the last cargo drop performed by a C-130 assigned to the 911th Airlift Wing, marking the end of an era prior to their transition to the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo by Richard Oram)

Members of the 911th Airlift Wing bring recovered cargo to their truck at the Starvaggi Drop Zone near Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, April 17, 2018. This was the last cargo drop performed by a C-130 assigned to the 911th AW, marking the end of an era prior to their transition to the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo by Richard Oram)

Members of the 911th Airlift Wing bring recovered cargo to their truck at the Starvaggi Drop Zone near Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, April 17, 2018. This was the last cargo drop performed by a C-130 assigned to the 911th AW, marking the end of an era prior to their transition to the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo by Richard Oram)

Members of the 911th Airlift Wing recover cargo dropped from a C-130 Hercules at the Starvaggi Drop Zone near Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, April 17, 2018. This was the last cargo drop performed by a C-130 assigned to the 911th AW, marking the end of an era prior to their transition to the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo by Richard Oram)

Members of the 911th Airlift Wing recover cargo dropped from a C-130 Hercules at the Starvaggi Drop Zone near Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, April 17, 2018. This was the last cargo drop performed by a C-130 assigned to the 911th AW, marking the end of an era prior to their transition to the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo by Richard Oram)

Cargo drops from a C-130 Hercules at the Starvaggi Drop Zone near Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, April 17, 2018. This was the last cargo drop performed by a C-130 assigned to the 911th Airlift Wing, marking the end of an era prior to their transition to the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo by Richard Oram)

Cargo drops from a C-130 Hercules at the Starvaggi Drop Zone near Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, April 17, 2018. This was the last cargo drop performed by a C-130 assigned to the 911th Airlift Wing, marking the end of an era prior to their transition to the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo by Richard Oram)

PITTSBURGH INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT AIR RESERVE STATION, Pa. --

On a blustery, snowy April afternoon, members of the 32nd Aerial Port Squadron and 758th Operations Squadron observed another milestone in the 911th Airlift Wing’s transition from the C-130 Hercules to the C-17 Globemaster III.  Chief Master Sgt. Robert Steckmeyer and Master Sgts. Tom McEachern and Will Mosser from the 32 APS, and Capt. Brice Hayden, of the 758 OSS were at the Starvaggi Drop Zone, near Burgettstown, Pa.,  to witness the last low-level air drop conducted by a 911th C-130 Hercules.

With the conversion from the tactical airlift C-130 to the much larger airframe and strategic airlift C-17, days of the low-level airdrops will soon become a thing of the past for the 911 AW.

Sitting in the back of the truck at the drop zone site and listening to the crew reminisce, provided a little glimpse into their world.  With smiles on their faces they proudly spoke not so much of the easy days when it was sunny and the pilots hit the mark, but of the hardships of taking a machete to brambles and briars to recover dropped cargo. They laughed as each member remembered air drops and recoveries from the past.

Reflecting, Mosser proudly said, “All of us have put in some very long days. We had a lot of good times even when things didn’t go accordingly. I will never forget getting a helicopter out here to pick up some wayward pallets.”  Furthering the sentiment, Steckmeyer stated, “I am proud of all the hard work we did over the years.”

The way forward is not entirely smooth sailing for many members here as their positions, in some cases, are also coming to an end.

“My promise is, we will do everything possible to find other positions in our wing or in other wings, or assist with career changes for those who wish to continue serving,” said Col. Doug Strawbridge, 911 AW commander.

McEarchen is trying to cross train into another squadron.  Mosser is leaving the air reserve technician world for a job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a lock/dam operator. 

For Hayden, the transition means a year away from his family as he trains to fly the C-17.  He stated that he worries about returning to a training environment at age 38 and having more time away from home following a recent deployment.

 “It will take some getting used to for sure,” Hayden said. “I will just have to stay humble through the training and do my best.”

The radio suddenly squawked; it was the C-130 crew 90 seconds out. The driver started the truck and we drove to a safe area as the C-130 came in low for the drop.  Even with the high winds the drop went well. All of us stood quietly for a minute watching the “Herc” circle around for a fly over…not much was said afterwards… it was a solemn moment.  We packed up the gear and headed back to base.