Air Force crew from Ramstein leapfrogs around Italy flying medical supplies
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 14, 2020
Stars and Stripes is making stories on the coronavirus pandemic available free of charge. See other free reports here. Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter here. Please support our journalism with a subscription.
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — The itinerary was a first for a C-130 cargo plane crew from Ramstein: fly to Milan, continue to Rome, back to Milan, then back home to Germany, all in the same day.
The large Italian civilian airports, now desolate and eerily quiet due to the coronavirus pandemic, aren’t typical destinations for the 37th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein. But the route will soon be familiar, as the squadron begins a mission to help Italy through the coronavirus pandemic.
Wednesday’s flight around Italy was the first of a planned series organized by U.S. Air Forces in Europe to distribute thousands of pounds of medical supplies to hospitals across the country, officials said.
The effort is part of a $100 million relief plan for Italy announced last month by the White House, USAFE officials said. It calls for the Pentagon to transport medical equipment and other humanitarian aid in coordination with the State Department and the Italian government.
NATO’s Rapid Air Mobility initiative, activated in March for coronavirus relief efforts, also contributed to Wednesday’s mission.
Two similar flights from Ramstein to Italy are planned in the coming week, officials said. They will likely continue as long as Italy needs them, they said.
On Wednesday, the C-130J Super Hercules landed at Milan with an empty cargo hold at a near-empty airport.
Milan is close to the epicenter of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak in Lombardy. The normally busy Milan Malpensa Airport looked like an aircraft boneyard, with fleets of idle passenger jets parked everywhere.
“It’s a ghost town,” said Maj. Thomas Morgan, who piloted the flight with 1st Lt. Kane McManus. When the C-130 landed, it was one of only two aircraft taxiing at the sprawling international airport.
The crew picked up six pallets of KN95 masks, surgical gowns and COVID-19 test kits destined for hospitals in Italy’s south, greeting their Italian counterparts with waves or elbow bumps instead of handshakes.
The plane flew on to Rome, where it picked up a smaller shipment of N95 masks and others with protective face shields, destined for hospitals in the north, which meant a return to Milan.
“It feels great … to be able to be part of something bigger than ourselves and help out an ally, especially one as old as Italy,” Morgan said.
With fewer opportunities to fly during the pandemic, McManus said they were eager to “get this one … and be able to help out when we can.”