JACKSON, Miss. – U.S. citizens stranded in Panama and Colombia during the COVID-19 pandemic got the ride of their lives when a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III assigned to the 172nd Airlift Wing brought them home.
Ninety U.S. citizens were transported by the Mississippi Air National Guard to Duke Field, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, April 1 and 2.
The mission was part of an ongoing interagency effort led by the U.S. State Department to assist American citizens unable to return home from countries around the world during the coronavirus outbreak.
“This has been a difficult time for the entire world,” said Maj. Jimmy Balcom, a pilot assigned to the 183rd Airlift Squadron. “Our crew was able to provide a crucial service, which directly impacted not only our passengers but all of the family members that were waiting for their return.”
The aircrew of six had only a few days to prepare for the two-day trip. “We didn’t know the locations until the morning of departure,” said Balcom. “Even then, locations changed as the mission progressed.”
The first day, 48 Americans were transported from Bogota, Colombia, followed by 42 Americans from Panama the second day.
“Every one of the citizens was grateful to have a ride,” said Balcom. “The entire crew felt that if anyone was going to support this mission, we wanted it to be us.”
Once the passengers deplaned in Florida, they were screened and bused to a hotel to begin the rest of their journey.
The missions are just another way the 172nd Airlift Wing, known as The Wings of the Deep South, strives “to be the most responsive, resourceful, and respected airlift wing in the nation.”