Giant Squids Land at Dover Air Force Base

By Air Force Master Sgt. Veronica A. Aceveda and Airman 1st Class Shen-Chia Chu
Special to American Forces Press Service

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del., July 14, 2008 - A 326th Airlift Squadron aircrew landed at Dover Air Force Base, Del., July 11 with two giant squids in its cargo compartment.

The two sea creatures were transported in a C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft from Europe and will be delivered to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The female preserved specimen, which will become the largest on display in the United States, measures 24 and a half feet long. The male is 9 feet long.

"My daughter is going to think I am the coolest dad ever," said Air Force Master Sgt. Phillip Vicker, a 326th AS loadmaster whose mission was to load and balance all of the cargo, including the squids, onto the aircraft.

Even though none of the aircrew or passengers could physically see the squids, Vicker said, everyone could still see the long box labeled with 'giant squids' stickers.

"They were really pumped up about it; they kept asking, 'Are those really squids in there?'" he said. "Even we didn't believe it when we first saw it on the cargo manifest."

The shipping container for the pair of squids was not as long as the actual bodies inside. The project manager at the Smithsonian, Elizabeth Musteen, said this was because the specimens' arms and tentacles were folded over the top of their mantles. However, when on display, the female will be fully expanded horizontally, and the male will be encased in a vertical state, she added.

"These specimens, brought up in deep-sea fishing nets off the coast of northern Spain, are expected to be a main attraction," Musteen said.

The giant squids will make their public debut Sept. 27, when the Smithsonian opens its new Sant Ocean Hall, an exhibition area designed to support ocean education.

"I can't wait to take the family to the display," said Air Force Maj. Mark Chagaris, one of the C-17 pilots who brought the deep ocean dwellers to the United States. "I can say, 'Your daddy helped bring that over here.'"

After unloading the squids from the C-17, four 436th Aerial Port Squadron airmen prepared the squids for transport to the Smithsonian by truck.

"There's nothing we can't handle," said Air Force Airman 1st Class David Strong, one of the four ramp services specialists who moved the 10-tentacled creatures. "If there's anything that needs to be shipped, we take care of it."

Dover's porters work for the world's largest aerial port, and are trained to load or unload cargo weighing 5 to 2 million pounds, and many have experience moving odd objects.

Air Force Senior Airman Michael Goicoechea, a ramp services specialist who helped to move the giant squids, said he has moved cargo ranging from submarines and Stryker vehicles to helicopters and Humvees.

"I was stationed previously at Kadena Air Base, Japan," he said. "But, I've moved more cargo working at Dover Air Force Base in five months than my two years in Kadena, and this is my first squid!"

While not trained to receive every single package, aerial port airmen here deal with all kinds of unexpected cargo.

"That is why our job is never boring," said Tech. Sgt. Steven Braddick, ramp services specialist shift supervisor, who has seen Air Force jets transport dolphins and parts for the space shuttle. "We're always learning and training throughout our career field, because who knows what else we'll be loading?"

(Air Force Master Sgt. Veronica A. Aceveda serves with the 512th Airlift Wing, and Air Force Airman 1st Class Shen-Chia Chu serves with the 436th Airlift Wing.)

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