ABOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT OVER IRAQ — The 386th Air Expeditionary Wing’s C-130 Hercules mission may not be the most glamorous part of the U.S. military’s fight against the Islamic State, but it’s vital.

During a single mission on Wednesday, a crew of six moved nearly 100 people including special operations forces, allies and civilians — and roughly 15 tons of cargo such as ammunition, tactical equipment, building materials, fuel, food, blood packs.

Military.com joined the C-130H3’s 12-hour operation to several locations in Iraq. The 386th, based elsewhere in Southwest Asia, invited this reporter along under the condition last names, specific locations, tactics and procedures not be disclosed.

“I would say the C-130 — we’re more like the blue collar guys of Air Force [operations],” Capt. Dennis, the co-pilot, said during the mission.

“We bring our lunch pail to work every day, punch in the timecard, and get the mission done,” said Dennis, who, if it were standard for non-combat pilots to have a call sign, said he’d be called “Thundercat.”

The crew for Wednesday’s flight included pilots, a navigator, a flight engineer and loadmasters, all of whom hailed from the National Guard’s 156th Airlift Squadron in Charlotte, North Carolina. In theater, they’re part of the 737th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron. The mission was their last in the Middle East before returning home.

“There’s nothing holding us back when we’re out here,” said Tech. Sgt. Justin, the flight engineer.

“We’re always doing something,” added Capt. Ashley, the navigator. “Really, the C-130 is out helping people, and that’s why I love being a part of this mission.”

Flying east, the crew watched out the C-130’s front windows for anything suspicious as the Hercules descended. Before landing, they suited up with protective armor, per protocol.

“Welcome to Iraq,” Ashley said.

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