WHEELING - Keeping the military's C-130 cargo planes up and running in times of peace and war has required more than just two pilots ever since the monstrous aircraft were first put into action in the late 1950s.
Little fanfare has been given to the men and women who prepared and loaded these cargo/troop carrying planes at a moment's notice at various locations around the globe. This arm of the military, known as "mappers," were members of the Air Force Mobile Aerial Port Squadrons.
MAPS personnel were military trained, carried weapons and were deployed to areas of the world to provide support service to the planes that were landing and taking off as needed, sometimes in hostile situations on makeshift, dirt runways. During the Vietnam War, combat mobility teams were in place to supply the planes and later were given the MAPS title.
Photo by Heather Ziegler
Wheeling residents Amy and Mark Bishop are ready to greet more than 100 Air Force veterans for a weekend reunion.
In the late 1990s after the Gulf War, the MAPS units were deactivated. Some of the personnel continued in the service in other positions, while others chose to retire.
The MAPS experiences - some harrowing and many tinged with humor - have not been forgotten, thanks to the efforts of former Air Force officers/mappers Mark and Amy Bishop of Wheeling. The couple will host a MAPS reunion at their Big Wheeling Creek cabin this weekend. More than 100 "mappers" and their family members plan to attend the event, many of them camping on site or utilizing local motels and hotels.
Bold red and black "MAPS" signs are posted along the route to the camp for first-timers. The Bishops said many MAPPERS are returning for their seventh reunion and know their way around Wheeling, especially the parks, golf courses and shopping areas. This "family" reunion will include a steak fry tonight, a hog roast Saturday and plenty of "war" stories from "mappers" all across the country.
Mark Bishop is a Wheeling native who met his bride at a fixed port in Washington state. While many wives stateside, their husbands were off and running to England, Germany, North Africa, Egypt, Panama and the Middle East with just a few hours notice.
"We worked with so many different people in the military ... pilots, special ops, and got to know many of them," he said. "Our job was cargo. It was not our job to engage. We were there to protect assets and load and off-load the planes.
"We loaded and off-loaded tanks and other equipment for the 130s. There were parachute packers, forklift operators and there were always mechanics to keep everything working."
Those parachutes landed vital equipment for the troops on the ground. Loading and off-loading often was done in remote areas where personnel had to keep one eye on the task at hand and the other on their surroundings, especially in the tenuous areas during the Gulf War.
"It wasn't always friendly, but we received the very best training. The 130s would land on highways, and we would be loading and moving tanks there. Sometimes our mobile sites would consist of a tent on the side of the road," he added.
Amy Bishop, who also traveled for MAPS training, said the MAPS experience was unlike any other in the military and proved to be exciting and unique.
"It's great to get together and hear all the stories," she said. "It's a lot of work, but so many of the local merchants help us out. We only charge $30 per person for the weekend, and everyone eats well and enjoys the time."
Mark, who has worked at Cabela's Distribution for the past eight years, said Cabela's graciously offered a discount to the veterans via gift cards and many of them enjoy shopping there.
The Bishops have been married for 22 years and have two sons, Brent, 19, and Shawn, 17. Amy works at Elmhurst in Wheeling. The couple has established a website, mobileaerialport.com, for anyone wanting more information.