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Men on a mission

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

When U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld needed to catch a plane while in the Greater Middle East last week, two Platte County natives were tapped for the job of transporting the dignitary.

Major Ty Sampson of northern Platte County and his first lieutenant, Eric Rawlings of Platte City, picked up Rumsfeld in Uzbekistan and flew him into "theater" at Kandahar, Afghanistan and then into Kabul, Afghanistan.

Sampson and Rawlings are both graduates of Platte County High School. They are with the 180th Airlift Squadron of the Missouri Air National Guard unit stationed at Rosecrans Airport in St. Joseph.

Their squadron has been activated by presidential order since March of last year and has been deployed to five different countries in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Those countries include Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, and Uzbekistan.

Sampson says his C-130 aircraft squadron is assigned by the Air Force to fly missions in the Afghanistan theater. Last Thursday, Feb. 26, his crews were given the mission to transport Rumsfeld and his entourage of about 30 folks, mostly national press agents from the big networks.

Sampson, via email exchange with The Landmark, says the busy—but exciting—day played out this way:

After a wake-up of just after midnight, his crew planned the flight and was soon airborne to pick up Secretary Rumsfeld at a nearby airfield in Uzbekistan.

At daybreak, with engines running, the secretary and entourage ran on board and the flight soon departed.

Once airborne, Sampson and Rawlings soon had a visitor on the flight deck. Rumsfeld climbed onto the deck and there he stayed, visiting with the crew most of the flight.

"We found him to be very personable and down to earth. He was willing to pose for pictures with all the crew members," Sampson told The Landmark.

Rumsfeld asked—and answered—questions in an engaging conversation during flight, Sampson said.

"As a former Navy pilot, Mr. Rumsfeld was knowledgeable about our activities in the cockpit. I asked him about his career, both while he was in the Navy and then in politics," Sampson said.

Rumsfeld said he got out of the Navy while Eisenhower was still president and then went knocking on doors of congressmen in Washington, D.C. looking for a staff position. Eventually that led him to becoming President Ford's chief of staff.

"He is very energetic and quick-witted," Sampson said of Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld knew the flight crew had put in a tremendously long day in order to be in position and available to fly him around, yet he still kidded them about having "banker's hours.”

When Sampson told the secretary that he and four of his crew members had also been activated for Desert Storm in 1991 and now were activated again for the current operations, Rumsfeld replied:

"Well, at least we gave you 13 years off.”

At the end of the flight from Uzbekistan into Kandahar, Lt. Rawlings made a perfectly smooth landing that elicited a two thumbs up signal from Rumsfeld.

After the secretary's two hour long tour, the group reboarded the aircraft, again with the engines already running.

They flew on to Kabul, Afghanistan for a visit to that city, which is the site of the new Afghan government.

Once again, Rumsfeld was happy with the flight and the professionalism of the entire crew and commented "you guys could be Navy pilots.”

"As Air Guard pilots, we weren't sure if that was a compliment or not, but we think it was meant to be!" Sampson told The Landmark.

Due to the length of the Kabul visit, the crew's duty had expired, meaning Sampson's crew could no longer fly the aircraft without a 12 hour rest. In order to continue the mission, a second C-130 aircrew was flown to Kabul to fly the remainder of the mission.

"At that point, we became passengers ourselves and when the entourage reboarded the aircraft, we sat in back of our own aircraft with the secretary and his entourage. This afforded us an additional opportunity to talk with not only the secretary but several other members of his group, including the aides and journalists," Sampson said.

In all, the mission "went like clockwork.”

"It was a fun and interesting day, albeit very long. We were up for about 23 hours by the time we returned to our living quarters," he added.

Sampson, who was home for a time around Christmas, said his crew hopes to be home again in mid-March.


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