A C-5 cargo jet landed at Stennis International Airport late Friday morning. The massive military transport dwarfed the small, private planes parked on the Hancock County tarmac. "Oh it's a sight, every time I get to see one of them big birds," said Tommy Welch of Textron Marine and Land.
Welch got an upclose look at the C-5. His armored security vehicles were being loaded in its belly. Welch works for Textron. And the New Orleans company has a $167 million contract to ship 212 of these vehicles to the Army. "I travel with the tanks and train the troops on how to operate them, maintain them, fix them," Welch said.
While airport executives were at one end of the airport holding a groundbreaking for a new air traffic control tower, five brand new tanks rolled out of a Stennis hanger and onto the cargo plane.
At the base of the C-5s ramp was a reminder of America's darkest day -- a reminder of why America's military is flying this equipment into Iraq. The date 9-11-2001 was painted on the ramp. A pentagon was immediately left of the date. Twin tower replicas were on the right side. "It means a lot," Welch said, referring to the patriotic pride he felt driving the five ASVs onto a transport plane likely bound for the war zone. "We can do what we can do to help our country out."
C-5 crew members closed the belly of their aircraft at noon. Three hours later, the transport, and the five Army Security Vehicles were scheduled to be on their way from Stennis International Airport to Iraq.
By this fall, New Orleans will be shipping 36 Armored Security Vehicles a month to Iraq. Nobody knows whether the Hancock County airport will be used to ship those ASVs overseas.