Somewhere in the skies above Southeastern Asia or Eastern Africa, Airman 1st Class Joshua Weston is delivering supplies and troops critical to missions in an unstable area.
Weston joined the U.S. Air Force straight out of Fort Mill High School in 2006. He's in the middle of a four-month deployment and has about 4 1/2 years left on his initial enlistment. If he remains in the Air Force, he plans to apply for officer training, he said. After all, the military is in his blood.
"My uncle was in the Marines and my grandpa was in the Army," Weston said. "They both said the Air Force was the way to go."
"Grandpa" is the legendary Col. Logan Weston, the "Fightin' Preacher." The late Col. Weston fought in three wars: World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and is one of the most highly decorated soldiers in U.S. history.
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The younger Weston said he doesn't think anyone could live up to Col. Weston's reputation, so he concentrates instead on doing the best he can to serve his country his own way.
"I have no expectations to live up to that, but he is someone I looked up to," Weston said in a phone interview last week. "I hope the military changes me like it did him."
Weston is a Loadmaster on a C-17, the 585,000-pound workhorse of the Air Force fleet. In 250 missions so far, he's racked up more than 350 hours of flight time. He's in charge of loading and unloading all cargo and passengers, and handling the accompanying paperwork.
In a few months he's delivered approximately 5 million pounds of cargo to and from Iraq, Afghanistan, Kenya, Germany and other nations. In all, he's been to more than 10 countries. Usually his plane lands to offload its cargo, but Weston has carried out a few air drops, sending supplies to the ground via parachute, though those are rare occurrences.
"The cargo can be anything," he said. "We've hauled bubble wrap and explosives, 4,000 to 5,000 troops. It's pretty intense, everything we've carried."
He spends most of his time in the air above the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We're always a part of everything going on over here," he said.
From his vantage point high above the fighting, Weston considers himself relatively safe. He thinks his uncle and grandpa were right about the Air Force.
"We're hauling troops all the time, and they're going out for a year at a time," Weston said. "I can't even imagine."
For the most part, Weston keeps in touch with family and friends through e-mail. In his neck of the woods, Weston is about seven hours ahead of Fort Mill, and phone service is usually unreliable, so e-mail has been a life saver, he said.
He said he's also glad he's single. Two other Loadmasters he works with have fiancées waiting back home, and he notices the strain that deployment has put on his buddies' relationships.
When his tour is up, Weston will fly back to Charleston Air Force Base, where he is stationed with the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron.
Then he plans to come home to Fort Mill for a few days before returning to base for training ahead of his next deployment.
He expects to serve as a Loadmaster again, but eventually, if he makes a career out of being in the service, Weston hopes to become a pilot.
"The pay is a lot better," he said.
Plus, he'd be able to fall back on his flying experience as a private-sector pilot if he ever leaves the military.
"I'm looking forward to coming back home," Weston says. "I love the country and the freedoms. I just want to say thank you to everyone for the support."