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This C-17 Globemaster operated temporarily from RAF Mildenhall, England, while the runway at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, was being repaved. The last contingent of the 240 visiting airmen from the 817th Airlift Expeditionary Squadron is expected to leave England on Thursday.
This C-17 Globemaster operated temporarily from RAF Mildenhall, England, while the runway at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, was being repaved. The last contingent of the 240 visiting airmen from the 817th Airlift Expeditionary Squadron is expected to leave England on Thursday. (Charlie Reed / S&S)

RAF MILDENHALL, England — Just hours after Incirlik Air Base reopened its runway Tuesday, the 817th Airlift Expeditionary Squadron began waving goodbye to Britain and saying hello to Turkey.

After deploying from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., in late February, the squadron and its eight C-17 Globemasters temporarily set up shop at Mildenhall while Incirlik’s 10,000-foot runway was being repaved. The last contingent of the 240 visiting airmen — including support personnel from Incirlik and McChord Air Force Base, Wash. — was expected to leave England on Thursday night.

“It’s been really interesting for me,” said 1st Lt. Marcus Durham. The 26-year-old pilot, like many members of the 817th, is on his first deployment.

“It’s all been very non-standard, from what I’ve heard from all the senior guys, in terms of locations and just the deployment in general,” said Durham, who was able to make a trip to London even though downtime was a rarity. “But it’s all run pretty smoothly.”

Tasked with delivering supplies and equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan under Air Mobility Command, the crew’s presence significantly increased air traffic at Mildenhall along with the workload for the airmen behind the scenes

In 45 days, 350 C-17s moved through Mildenhall carrying 4,000 tons of cargo. When compared to the 220 C-17s that hauled 6,000 tons of cargo through the base for all of 2007, “it was a very busy six weeks or so,” said Lt. Col. Seaborn Whatley, commander of the Mildenhall-based 727th Air Mobility Squadron.

“The guys were working really hard,” he said, adding that 90 percent of flights were on time during the sharp spike in operations.

A steady stream of Boeing 747s delivering the downrange-bound cargo from the States also added to the traffic. The round-the-clock missions had support crews working 12-hour shifts to maintain, clean and restock, load and provide command-and-control support for the constant flow of aircraft, Whatley said.

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