United States fighter jets and bombers responded Thursday to North Korea's latest missile test by releasing live weapons at a bombing range in South Korea.
This most recent show of force is yet another example of the "rising tension over North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile development programs," U.S. Pacific Command said in a statement Thursday.
While it’s unclear whether the situation will continue to escalate, the airmen and women at Travis Air Force Base are assisting in preparing the U.S. territory of Guam for any and all scenarios.
At the end of July, one of Travis' 18 C-5 Galaxy mega-planes helped deploy six B-1 bombers and 350 airmen to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.
"We’re bringing in the ground equipment for those B-1 bombers who are actually keeping us safe by having that constant presence in the Pacific—bringing their bomb loaders, bringing their ground equipment, bringing troops for them," said Lt. Heather Bleuer, one of the youngest pilots in the Air Force piloting the C-5 Super Galaxy, our military’s largest aircraft.
Bleuer's also one of the few female pilots at the controls of the mega-plane.
"When you stand outside of this plane, you are in awe because it is so much larger than yourself," Bleuer said. "But when you’re flying it, you can’t even tell how large it is."
To put into perspective just how big the thing is, the Wright brothers’ first flight was shorter in length than the cargo floor of the C-5, which can hold six greyhound busses or 100 Volkswagen Beetles.
"Whatever needs to get delivered, I like to say that I can do that, and that I’m willing to do that," said Sra. Michael Watson. "This stuff just doesn’t turn up one day. It’s us that’s taking it there, so my role is to make sure it gets their safely and on time."
Watson is a loadmaster on the C-5, and probably a Tetris master, too. It’s his job to make sure all cargo—whether it’s a NASA weather satellite or a dozen bomb lift trucks bound for Guam—is loaded, secured and escorted safely anywhere in the world.
"I feel so lucky to be able to wake up every day and be able to operate this beast of an airplane," Watson said. "I never thought in my wildest dreams that this would be my office, my day-to-day job."
The bombers and airmen taken to Guam were part of U.S. Pacific Command’s Continuous Bomber Presence mission, which has already conducted 11 practice runs with the B-1 in a plan to preemptively strike North Korean missile sites if situation escalates, military officials recently told NBC News.
"Bringing supplies out there to that base, or units out there, it’s something we always do. We’re just going about business as normal," said Tsgt. Blake Savard.
Sergeant Savard, a flight engineer on the C-5, says while things in the Pacific may seem like they’re heating up, Travis’s C-5s have been making regular trips to Guam for years, and that recent missions are just another example of the base’s commitment to maintaining America’s global reach.
"Doing the missions of moving units to places like Guam is very important," Savard said. "They have to get a whole base, basically, somewhere to operate. They have all their support equipment, so it’s not just the planes that are there, they have maintenance personnel that need tools, and the support equipment, supplies."
At the end of August, the U.S. and South Korea began their annual Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercise, "a computer simulated defensive exercise designed to enhance readiness, protect the region and maintain stability on the Korean peninsula,” Pentagon officials said in a statement.
"We always have a sense of readiness," Savard said. "It’s the United States military, so we try to stay on top of being ready at all times. So, hopefully nothing changes. We just keep up that tempo."
Despite Sgt. Savard’s hope of calmness on the peninsula, North Korean state media said the country’s most recent missile test, which sent a rocket sailing over Japan, was a “meaningful prelude to containing” Guam.
Following the launch, President Trump tweeted that talking to North Korea is not the answer, leaving many to wonder what his plans will be moving forward.
On Thursday, U.S. fighter jets and bombers conducted a show of force alongside Japanese and South Korean allies in direct response to North Korea's latest test.
But the airmen and women at Travis are ready for anything.
"We carry a lot of cargo long distances and we’re good at it, and we’re known for that," Bleuer said.
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