Now, he’s training for a new plane, riskier missions
HUNTERSVILLE – For the past 14 years, Joe Caulfield has flown in the biggest airplane in America’s military arsenal. The C-5 Galaxy can carry up to 270,000 pounds of cargo, and Caulfield’s job is balancing that weight so the airplane can operate safely.
He’s the loadmaster, and his U.S. Air National Guard crew has delivered soldiers and supplies to almost everywhere in the world the C-5 can find a 6,000-foot landing strip. That’s a little more than a mile, and the plane needs an even longer runway when it’s loaded.
“We’re transcontinental,” Caulfield, husband of Huntersville Commissioner Danae Caulfield, said recently. “We can deliver helicopters, tanks. We’re the workhorse that gets it overseas.
“It’s a very challenging job. Every airplane is perfectly balanced and has center of gravity. Within parameters, you can mess with the center of gravity some.”
Sometimes, Caulfield has to do those calculations in a hurry. He gave the example of his C-5 picking up a U.S. Navy Seal team and all their equipment. “They showed up, and this is what we have,” he said.
He can check equipment weight using the computer and each piece of U.S. military hardware has a plate attached, giving its weight. “When I first started doing it with pencil and eraser, it was a lot of stress,” he recalled. “The computer has revolutionized my job.”
Caulfield also has balanced a C-5 with the armored limousines, trucks and other equipment that accompanies the president on any out-of-town trip.
Caulfield is on leave from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, and he expected to return to that job after a one-month tour back in 2006 and then again this year when he’d logged 20 years with the Air Force C-5. But after four years of being away, the military has changed Caulfield’s plans again. The Air Force decided the crews at Stewart Air National Guard Base in New York, where Caulfield is stationed, will begin flying a different airplane – the smaller C-17.
He’s spending the next 90 days in Oklahoma learning his new airplane, and he’ll eventually help retrain the 15 flight crews at Stewart Air National Guard Base.
The C-17 still carries a lot of cargo – up to 169,000 pounds – but it can land on a shorter runway, so it can supply smaller bases potentially closer to battle zones.
Though he knows the C-17 might fly places potentially more dangerous, he adds, “Everywhere we land now (with the C-5), there’s dangers and mortar attacks. I’ve been very blessed that I’ve been protected. I’m at a peace, and I don’t give it a second thought.”
Danae Caulfield accompanied her husband to his training base in Oklahoma. The couple have adjusted to the military life and the weeks of separation when Joe Caulfield is flying. They met while each was serving in the U.S. Air Force, got married and have three children, Brittany, Samuel and Caleb. Joe Caulfield didn’t intend to make the military a career, and he had started working as a police officer. But Sept. 11, 2001, changed that, and the Air National Guard called him back.
The Caulfields found Huntersville when Danae Caulfield and her daughter were looking for a college for Brittany. Joe Caulfield was overseas at the time, but “Danae fell in love with the area” and her husband did too when he got back.
“It’s the kind of place we want to see our grandchildren grow up,” Joe Caulfield said.
On a typical rotation, Joe Caulfield drives to New York at the end of a weekend, and his C-5 crew takes off on a Monday morning, hopping to Dover, Del., or Charleston, S.C., refueling in Europe and then arriving in the Middle East, where the crew will fly to several locations. Usually, the C-5 returns to the Stewart Air Force Base in seven to 14 days. The crew takes a couple days off and then flies another mission.
He gets back to Huntersville every four to eight weeks, depending on the mission. Caulfield normally builds up enough time off so that he can leave on a weekend and have five days off in Huntersville, returning to New York on the following weekend.
He doesn’t know why the military is retraining all 15 crews at Stewart Air Force Base to C-17s. “Year after year after year, we’ve been the most productive C-5 unit in the Air Force fleet,” he said. “Hey, I guess they want the best” for the C-17.
Caulfield loves his job particularly when he runs into people from the Charlotte area. “You don’t know how many people I’ve met from Huntersville, from Lincolnton,” he said. “I look at it like this. I fly in, and it’s hazardous. From time to time, mortars can land near us, and they have. But these guys are outside the wire, where they’re at risk every minute. They are all local heroes. We have so many local guys over there, and I’m happy to be able to speak on their behalf.”