Air Force Academy Grad Flies Big Pickup Truck In The Sky

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When Capt. Joey Sullivan flew support to Indonesia he participated in a more personal American military operation than he usually does from the cockpit of his C-130 Hercules.

"Some people think about the military and war. For me it is more about humanitarian relief," Sullivan said.

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Joey Sullivan

He graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2001 and had been a pilot for three years when a tsunami hit Thailand on Dec. 26, 2004.

Flying over the Thai peninsula, he could not see individuals but the devastation was clear. A land once green was barren. Grass huts and houses where families once lived and loved were underwater.

"We were the first force on the ground," he said.

C-130 crews from Greece and Germany soon joined the relief efforts.

A C-130 is like a "big pickup truck in the sky" with its 42,000 pounds of cargo capacity and ability to airdrop loads or land for delivery on rough, dirt runways.

Upon landing in Hat Yai, Sullivan and his crew met a lot of volunteers, mostly Thai and a few traveling Americans who stopped to help unload food, ice and other supplies from the plane.

He and his crew med-evacuated stranded Germans from Hat Yai to Phuket.

"They were just in their robes, no shoes and were pretty bloodied up," Sullivan said.

Rendering aid to villagers and tourists was the "most amazing experience of my life" Sullivan said.

During his career so far, Sullivan has been stationed in Germany for one year and Japan for three years.

Living in Germany was a slight contrast to growing up in Payson and the Valley.

There are many holidays, thus days off, in the German culture. Stores were open at odd times and never open on Sundays. That was the day for church, Sullivan said.

The Buddhist structure of Asian societies was "so different from say, a Christian country or a Muslim country."

He observed feral dogs everywhere in Thailand. People feed and keep them alive because they believe the dogs could be their ancestors, he said.

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Air Force pilot Capt. Joey Sullivan (kneeling, left) with his crew in Thailand.

In Korea, the first sale of the day is the most important because it sets the good luck up for the rest of the day.

The structure of Japanese society is very professional.

The mohawks and piercings common among American teens and young adults are uncommon in the conformist atmosphere where people do not want to stand out.

In Asia, generally, Sunday is a day for family activities such as going to the beach.

Sullivan is stationed on the other side of the world from where he grew up and yearned to become an astronaut.

He and his Payson Elementary School buddy, Ryan Tidwell, got the taste for flight when they visited space camp in fifth grade.

The camp counselors talked about the Air Force Academy and young Sullivan set his goal high.

He graduated from the academy with a degree in business management. He is currently working on his master's in international relations.

"When I went to Payson Junior High it was all about mechanics and working in a trade. I want to tell young people that the Air Force Academy is not beyond their reach," Sullivan said.

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