By Airman 1st Class Kristine M. Gruwell, 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 02, 2018
Imagine being packed shoulder to shoulder in a C-47 Skytrain. As silence filled the cargo deck, paratroopers from the 62nd Troop Carrier Squadron mentally prepared for their unforeseen future. Little did they know June 6, 1944, would mark a moment in history, and shape a legacy worth honoring.
Leo Rigard, a former engineer for the 62nd TCS, recalled empowering stories of the resilience and determination the air crew and paratroopers obtained during World War II and D-Day. These stories directly reflect the strength of Little Rock Air Force Base’s 314th Airlift Wing Airmen.
The 314th AW’s origins date back to the 62nd TCS with the establishment of the 314th Troop Carrier Group in the Army Air Corps. Their priorities of: mission, Airmen, families and partnerships not only keep the legacy of their predecessors alive but also expounds on the character Rigard and former service members demonstrated.
Rigard served during a time when soldiers were drafted. He said growing up in the country, he had little knowledge of the Army and no idea of what to expect once enlisted. However, because of his love for his nation, his mindset was, ‘When you get called, you go.’
Today, the 314th trains with the mindset that at a moment’s notice Airmen here may have to answer the call and go. Forging the world’s most expertly trained, professionally competent and combat effective tactical airlifters is their mission, and executing that mission effectively and efficiently is what they strive to do every day.
“Our nation trusts us to be ready,” said Maj. Eric Barada, 314th Operations Group director of staff. “This is an enduring cornerstone of tactical airlift and the U.S. military. Few organizations or businesses are asked to be ready to meet such a wide array of challenges in a short amount of time. It’s in our mindset as tactical airlifters.”
Transforming training into real-world response became reality for Rigard’s crew during Operation Husky, when they invaded Sicily, Italy. While in flight, their aircraft was shot down by enemy fire, and they crashed into the Mediterranean Sea. They had approximately 15 minutes from impact to reach their rafts before the aircraft sunk.
As the engineer, Rigard remembered his training, and with his knowledge of the aircraft, he located several rafts, which ultimately saved his crew.
“Here in the C-130J schoolhouse, we introduce learning objectives in a controlled environment,” Barada said. “As they mature as aviators, they will have enough building blocks to make the right choices even when they are confronted with something they have never seen before. Training is paramount. Absorbing the knowledge needed to perform your job to the best of your ability can be the difference between life and death.”
It is evident, though separated by decades, the members of the 314th AW and the men and women who preceded them at the 62nd TCS mirror qualities of resilience, determination and excellence in execution.