After the Storm: St. Elmo's fire

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jarad A. Denton
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
"My first instinct was that we had been hit by lightning"

Master Sgt. Kenneth Barker, 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron vehicle NCO in charge, remembers a night flight as a crew chief on a C-5 Galaxy during Operation Desert Storm, will celebrate its 20-year anniversary, Jan. 15.

"It was a neon-blue spider web that danced all over the windshield," he said. "To this day, it was the most incredible sight I've ever seen."

What Sergeant Barker saw was a St. Elmo's fire, a naturally occurring electrical phenomenon caused when the static electricity in the atmosphere reacted with the acrylic on the C-5's radome. He said the sight was just one of many experiences he will always remember from his time in C-5s during Desert Storm.

"We used to play catch with a tennis ball during flights - it was such a huge plane," he said. "The distance from the forward ramp to the aft ramp is longer than the Wright brothers' first flight."

Sergeant Barker said they would transport all kind of cargo to the desert, from UH-1 helicopters to armament. However, the flights home were sometimes the most emotionally trying.

"We transported human remains on the trips home," he said. "It was tough to see the metal caskets sitting in the plane with a name, branch of service and Social Security Number etched on them, and realize that was a person in there."

He said one of the hardest return trips he had to fly on was when they transported a total of four caskets - three metal ones and one small wooden box.

"That was a very somber flight," Sergeant Barker said. "I didn't sleep at all."

Etched into the wooden coffin was the information of the deceased: "Kristopher," his social security number and the phrase "U.S. Air Force dependent."

"Before that flight, my wife and I had been considering starting a family," he said. "If we had a boy, we knew we wanted to name him 'Christopher.' I wrote the information down from the caskets during that flight. I always thought I could find out how they died - but I never did."

Now, 20 years later, Sergeant Barker is preparing to retire from the Air Force, and leave the legacy he forged in Desert Storm to a new generation of Airmen.

"People have to realize all the good our Airmen are doing," he said. "Have pride in what you do. I look back on my time in Desert Storm and wouldn't change a thing. I would still fly those long, sleepless hours. And I will remember those experiences long after I retire."

Editor's Note: This story is part two of a three-part series commemorating the 20 year anniversary of Operation Desert Storm.