by Keith Nordstrom
May 2, 2001
BY CRAIG BORGES / SUN CHRONICLE STAFF
AIR FORCE BASE, DOVER, Del. -- Mark McKenna has an ex-girlfriend's
uncle to thank back home in North Attleboro.
If it weren't for him, McKenna
would probably be clipping someone's hedges right about
now, instead of helping troubleshoot problems on a control
panel in the cockpit of the second-largest plane in the
world, the United States Air Force's C-5 Galaxy.
At 22, McKenna has one of
the most important jobs in the world today, making sure
Dover Air Force Base's fleet of 36, battleship gray C-5s
are up and running. And the North Attleboro High School
graduate says he owes it all to an old flame's uncle, an
ex-airman who talked him out of his landscaping job and
into the Air Force.
To call the hulking, six-story
tall, 247-foot long C-5 an important piece of America's
military hardware would be an understatement. The C-5, after
all, is really the lifeline for troops serving all over
the world, especially those patrolling the war-ravaged Balkans
as NATO peacekeepers such as the members of the U.S. Army
Reserve's 399th Combat Support Hospital of Taunton.
Each day, a few C-5s take
off from Dover for places such as Ramstein, Germany, and
other points worldwide, loaded down with cargo the soldiers
abroad need to survive, from food and clothing to tanks
McKenna is responsible for
giving the aging flying beasts, which many here call "lead
sleds," much needed tender-loving care. He's a crew
chief -- crew dogs in military slang -- in the Air Mobility
Every day he and his fellow
crew dogs clamber and crawl over, under and within a chosen
C-5, gutting its insides piece by piece -- relubricating,
refitting and rewiring everything and anything to ensure
that it is in top condition. Most of the planes were built
in two time periods -- the late 1960s and early '70s and
again in the 1980s. The average overhaul takes a team of
20 crew dogs six weeks, he says.
McKenna, whose parents Michael
and Maureen McKenna live on Katherine Way in North Attleboro,
joined the Air Force in December 1998.
As a boy growing up in the
town, joining the military was always in the back of his
mind because his father had served in the Marines, he recalls.
"I always figured I'd
be doing something like this," he tells a reporter
while standing under the massive nose of one of a fleet
of C-5s parked in a row off a runway at Dover.
"It's been great so
far," he says."
Two other Massachusetts
residents, McKenna's buddy and fellow crew chief, Bob Cote
of Ware, and 1st Lt. Shane Noyes of Dracut, joined McKenna
on the tarmac.
Noyes is one of the guys
responsible for flying the giant aircraft. He said his interest
in flying for the Air Force was formed at a young age, while
visiting the now-defunct Pease Air Force Base in Newington,
"I went there as a
kid and was hooked," he says.
After graduating from Dracut
High School in 1994, Noyes enrolled in the Air Force Academy
where he learned how to be a pilot.
So far the venture has taken
him to 15 countries.
"It's been great for
me," he says. "I can't imagine doing anything
McKenna says he hopes to
get as much from the Air Force as well.
"My goal right now
is to get assigned to Europe, somewhere in Germany,"
he says. "Then I'd save up my leave and backpack to
every country. It's better than landscaping, I'll tell you."