POWIDZ AIR BASE, POLAND
POWIDZ, Poland - The pale moonlight barely shone through the hairline cracks in the darkened cell. Rats scurried along the floor, their tiny footsteps giving away a desperate search for the last morsel of food.
Inside the cell, a man knelt with his hands folded – sobbing and praying to Saint Mary for forgiveness and divine intervention, for tomorrow he would be put to death.
Suddenly, the small cell was bathed in radiant light as Mary appeared before the criminal with a piece of wood and a chisel. She charged the man to carve her likeness and present it to the judge the following morning. Having never carved anything before, the man nervously set to work – seeing no other alternative that might secure his release.
The sunrise came all too quickly as the criminal had only just finished his masterpiece of “Mary with Child.” Cautiously, he took the carving before the judge – who believed it was a sign from God and ordered the man’s immediate release. Gratefully, the pardoned criminal placed the statuette on the first linden tree along the road from Ketrzyn to Reszel, Poland – where it quickly garnered a reputation for having miraculous healing properties. Travelers from far and wide journeyed great distances to experience the Święta Lipka, or “Holy Linden,” before its destruction by the Teutonic Order in 1530. Today, a magnificent Baroque church sits atop the spot where the linden once stood.
Nearly 210 miles away at Powidz Air Base, Airmen from the 86th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron were performing their own miracle. Diligently, they worked to ensure two C-130J Super Hercules aircraft were ready and able to take to the skies during a flying training deployment in the name of Operation Atlantic Resolve. Heralded as the United States’ continuing commitment to collective security of NATO allies, the operation allows America to host a broad range of training opportunities with Poland and the neighboring Baltic States.
“We are here supporting this bilateral training mission throughout the region,” said 2nd Lt. Su Johnson, 86th AMXS sortie support officer in charge. “Every maintainer here is committed to making sure our planes are ready to go and executable to our mission.”
Capable of carrying up to 44,000 pounds, or 64 paratroopers, the Super Hercules’ have been performing cargo and personnel drops in partnership with the U.S. Army and NATO. For the first time in her career, Johnson would be travelling with the C-130J crew and witnessing a jump training mission.
“My dad was actually a jumper out of C-130E’s back in the 1970s,” she said. “I am really excited to see how things differ from then to now.”
Jump training is not the only major difference surrounding the C-130. During its 55 years of service, the aircraft has seen many upgrades and changes – all of which must be actively maintained by teams of dedicated Airmen.
“At any given time these Airmen are responsible for several million dollars’ worth of equipment designed to keep these airplanes going,” said Master Sgt. Jeremy Leuch, 86th AMXS production superintendent. “Every time the aircraft lands and before it takes off, these guys are ensuring the plane is safe and ready to take on any challenge.”
Much like the Święta Lipka’s healing properties, these aircraft maintainers are the mechanical doctors who devote countless hours toward keeping both pilots and passengers safe and alive.
“They are putting lives in the air,” Leuch said. “These Airmen put themselves in the pilots’ shoes and ask whether or not they would get on this aircraft after it has been maintained.”
Perfection is not simply a goal, it is an essential part of day-to-day operations on the flightline, said Leuch. If aircraft maintainers do not keep the C-130J’s healthy and functional, the mission at hand is instantly doomed to failure.
“What we do every day has a real-world, global impact,” said Johnson. “If someone, somewhere is hurt, needs medical supplies or personnel – it will probably be a C-130J from Ramstein Air Base, Germany that answers the call.”
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This work, Crossroads: The miracle of Święta Lipka, by TSgt Jarad Denton, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.