Retiree returns to take wing’s first space-a flight

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Michael Touchette
  • 120th Airlift Wing Public Affairs Office
A single Montana Air National Guard retiree sat in the small air terminal awaiting his call to board one of the 120th Airlift Wing's C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft here July 18.

Robert Marquard retired from the Montana Air National Guard in 2006 after 40 years of service and is now eligible to take the free flights offered through the space-available flight program.

Space-a flights are provided to service members, retirees and their families at no cost when unused seats on military aircraft are available once all the space-required passengers and cargo have been accommodated, said Master Sgt. Joshua Archer, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the small air terminal.

"It's not going to cost me anything, virtually," Marquard said. "I've really never had the opportunity before. I've been waiting ever since we got the C-130s for space-a."

The flight to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, was for scheduled maintenance that cannot be conducted at the Montana Guard base Archer said.

"My daughter works at the air terminal at McChord," said Marquard. "I'm going to visit her and my grandson, then turn around and come back home on Wednesday when the plane comes back, if that's the turnaround."

Although free flights to distant lands may seem appealing, according to Department of Defense Instruction 4515.13, "Air Transportation Eligibility", there is no guarantee of transportation and reservations will not be accepted or made for any space-available traveler. The DOD is not obligated to continue an individual's travel or return the individual to the point of origin or any other point.

Travelers should have sufficient personal funds to pay for commercial transportation, lodging, and other expenses if space-available transportation is not available. All associated expenses are the responsibility of the traveler, Archer said.

Marquard said he learned about the flight to JBLM the week before and contacted his daughter to let her know he was coming to visit. Marquard added that although his wife is also eligible to use the space-a program she had to work and was unable to get away on short notice.

"Individuals can sign up about 60 days out," said Tech. Sgt. Shirley Woods, an air transportation specialist. "They will then call the hotline and it will tell them if there are any flights scheduled. We'll put a roll call time on the line that tells them when to show up."

If a flight is cancelled or if the mission changes and space-a seats are not available the line will be updated, said Woods.

Passengers are checked to ensure they are not on the Transportation Safety Administration's no fly list, that their bags do not contain any prohibited items, and that they are appropriately dressed for travel on a military aircraft. They are then held in a secure area until they are escorted to the aircraft, said Woods.

Because the nature of the flight, Marquard was able to spend several days in Washington, then catch the same plane back to Montana. On the return flight Marquardt was joined by Senior Master Sgt. Adeyemo A. Adegboyega, Jr., a civil engineer from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, and his wife and three daughters, who had been on vacation and were returning home.

Upon return to Great Falls, Marquard was greeted by Col. Lee Smith, 120th Airlift Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Steven Lynch, 120th Airlift Wing command chief who presented Marquard with a certificate of appreciation for being the unit's first space-a passenger.

"This is pretty neat," Marquard said as he read the certificate.