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Face of Defense: Texas Air Guardsman Makes Pacific Journey

By Air Force Staff Sgt. Kristina Overton, 136th Airlift Wing

FORT WORTH, Texas, Sept. 8, 2016 — The aircraft’s engine cranked on as vibrations coursed through the cargo bay. Outside the small windows, Airman 1st Class John Karley could see the plane’s propellers spinning into action as his C-130 taxied out for departure from the 136th Airlift Wing at Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base here.

Karley braced himself as the aircraft took off, as he prepared for the bumpy ride to destinations unknown. For the rest of the aircrew, this occurrence was a regular day at the office. But for Karley, an aircraft propulsion technician with the 136th Maintenance Squadron here, the trip would be a first.

Karley had worked on C-130’s for more than two years with the Texas Air National Guard, but until now he had never actually flown in one. More than that, he had never left the United States. However, Karley and his crewmates now embarked on an eight-day deployment that would take them to Hawaii, Australia, Samoa and Guam.

Awesome Trip

“I was honestly in awe the entire time,” Karley said. “I’d never really thought I would have an opportunity to go anywhere with the Air Force, besides maybe a Middle East deployment. Initially, when they told me about the trip, I thought it was just a training exercise. I definitely didn't expect to go to the places we did. I’d only been to Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri in my entire life. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn't a secluded child but we weren't big travelers as a family.”

After a quick refueling stop in San Diego, Karley’s aircraft flew on for a brief overnight in Hawaii, and then the crew made their way to the second stop, American Samoa. During the course of the flight, Karley got called to report up to the flight deck. He thought there was some type of engine malfunction, but was relieved to know that the issue wasn’t an aircraft problem at all.

“When I got up to the flight deck, our commander tells me we are about to cross the Equator,” Karley said. “I was excited, and at that moment realized how far I truly was from home. I didn’t know there was more to it, though. When the commander informed me of a tradition in the Air Force that the first time you fly over the equator, you have to put all your clothes on backwards. I thought he was joking around with me, until I saw two other crew members beginning to turn their shirts around. It was fun and a great experience, I was just glad to be part of it.”

The crew arrived in Samoa around 9 p.m., local time. The small group of islands rest in the South Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and New Zealand. Karley didn't see anything until the next morning, but when he woke up, he arose to a humid climate and beautifully scenic mountain range.

Being Prepared

On extended trips the C-130 crews take an engine mechanic along with them, so in the event of an aircraft issue they have someone proficient who can analyze and fix the problems. Karley, along with one other technician, maintained regular inspections of the aircraft throughout the trip. After fixing a few maintenance glitches, he was able to explore the local area before the group departed the next day.

“Every moment I was there I kept thinking, ‘I can’t believe I am halfway around the world,’” he said. “Samoa was definitely my favorite stop on the entire trip. The people were great and it was just a gorgeous place. Then the next day we headed out for Cairns, Australia, and had to cross the International Date Line. That was crazy for me because we took off Friday morning and landed in Australia Saturday night. Calling family, it was kind of hard to comprehend the time difference at first. On top of that, being in another country was so much to take in. In Australia, the accents, and the people driving on the other side of the road was so interesting for me.”

Thirty minutes south of Cairns was Townsville, Australia. They would stop here and pick up a load of equipment before traveling to Guam and Wake Island. Karley was able to explore the World War II historical landmark, and then as they made their last stop back in Hawaii before heading back to mainland America, he was able to take in more of the island and enjoy his final day on the beach swimming and staring out at the crystal-blue water. After eight days, the crew touched back down in Fort Worth, in the 105-degree Fahrenheit Texas heat.

“I’ll never forget that experience, literally being on the opposite side of the world,” Karley reminisced. “It’s not something you can just take in and go on with your life. Texas is beautiful, but that was completely different.

“The scenery, the water and beaches and the mountains -- it was unforgettable --  and I am so thankful that I got a chance to go,” he continued. “It gave me a new perspective on the world and my aircraft. And now I’m excited about the next trip. Anywhere I can go, I’ll take it.”

Distribution channels: Military