Updated 08/13/2012 01:42 PM
NC Air National Guard takes off for next mission
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CHARLOTTE -- More than a dozen members of the North Carolina Air National Guard will be taking off on their first mission since four of their fellow guardsmen were killed, and two others injured, in a plane crash six weeks ago.
While members of the crew knew this day would come, it will still be a day filled with emotion and memories as they load up and take off.
They'll be helping to fight wildfires near Sacramento, Calif., and they're sending two C-130's, a similar situation to the one that claimed four of their fellow guardsmen's lives a month and a half ago.
While his wife and three kids are used to dad being away on missions, Lt. Col. Kevin Harkey said this Air National Guard MAFFS mission, is a little different.
"This one, I will say they thought a lot more about it. We had a lot more talks around the table, but they're good with it. Our faith in God and everything we believe in will get us through,” said Harkey.
Lt. Col. Paul Mikeal, Maj. Joseph McCormick, Maj. Ryan David and Senior Master Sgt. Robert Cannon were killed and two others injured when the C-130 plane they were flying crashed in South Dakota during a firefighting mission on July 1.
"They're our very dear friends and we miss them. Their spirits' going to continue to live with us, and one of the driving forces for me today is to go out and continue living their legacy as we go back out there,” said Harkey.
The airmen taking part in this mission will rotate in three groups. The mission will begin Tuesday and run through Sept. 4. The two planes and 16 airmen will take off from Charlotte-Douglas International Airport Monday morning.
"There's a lot of experience, a lot of training goes on, and although it's very difficult and challenging, we continue to meet those expectations every year,” he said.
They said the first drop over the California fires Tuesday will help get them over that hurdle as they still cope with the losses, but these men are with them in spirit, and they're doing this mission, in their honor.
"We really appreciate everything that those guys did. The sacrifice they paid was the ultimate, and they'll never be forgotten, and I can tell you my crew and I will be remembering it daily while we're out there this week,” said Harkey.
The tragedy affected not only the Charlotte base, but the entire state. But, they said they're ready to answer the call to help those out west.
"We all expected at some point we'd have to go back. That's the mission that we do, and we certainly want to take care of this critical mission as best as we can," said Lt. Col. Steve Mallette. "So we want to do our part."
The plane involved in last month's crash was MAFFS 7, and the unit has retired that tail number. The cause of the crash is still under investigation.