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If you must cheat, cheat death: The legacy of the Cheat callsign

Three aircraft flying in a valley

Two C-130J Super Hercules and a C-47 Skytrain fly in formation in the Himalayan Mountains. The 2d Combat Cargo Squadron flew C-47s during the Second World War II and the treacherous airlift operation was called "The Hump". Now the Air Force Reserve 327th Airlift Squadron carries on that legacy of combat airlift with the C-130J Super Hercules. (U.S. Air Force Reserve graphic illustration by Maj. Ashley Walker) (This graphic overlays two photos).

Three aircraft flying in a valley

Two C-130J Super Hercules and a C-47 Skytrain fly in formation in the Himalayan Mountains. The 2d Combat Cargo Squadron flew C-47s during the Second World War II and the treacherous airlift operation was called "The Hump". Now the Air Force Reserve 327th Airlift Squadron carries on that legacy of combat airlift with the C-130J Super Hercules. (U.S. Air Force Reserve graphic illustration by Maj. Ashley Walker) (This graphic overlays two photos).

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. --

To most people, the word “cheat” may signify deception or trickery. But to the Airmen in the 327th Airlift Squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base, being a cheater is a source of pride.

When the 327 AS joined the 913th Airlift Group, its callsign was “TUSK,” which was derived from Arkansans love of the University of Arkansas Razorback teams.

“There was really no connection to our heritage,” Lt. Col. Paul Campbell, Director of Operations for the squadron, said.

So, after returning from a deployment, members of the squadron started thinking of a callsign that would tell their story better.

In World War II, the 327th deployed to the China-Burma-India (CBI) region as the 2d Combat Cargo Squadron. Its mission was to fly cargo aircraft over the Himalayan Mountains, a route that came to be known as “flying the Hump,” as pilots had to maneuver 15,000 feet peaks. The 2d CCS delivered critical supplies to Chinese forces fighting Japanese invaders who cut off all land routes to China.

“Flying the Hump was treacherous due to the enormous peaks, zero visibility weather, mountain wave turbulence and freezing temperatures,” Campbell said.

More than 1,000 men didn’t make it through the dangerous 530-mile route, and about 600 planes were lost. Some called it the “Aluminum Trail” due to the number of planes that went down. Still, members of the squadron ensured that the mission was successful in transporting supplies into China throughout the war, ultimately leading to the defeat of Japanese forces.

Knowing the squadron’s history with cheating death, only one callsign made sense: CHEAT.

It also ties into the squadron’s patch, which features a hand holding five cards — each card being the two of spades — symbolizing the original five flights within the squadron. Spades was a popular card game for the men in the 2d CCS, with the two of spades being the highest card in the game.

Officially adopted in October 2019, the CHEAT callsign serves to remind those in the 327th of the sacrifice of the men and women who came before them.

“By embracing our heritage, and the danger that the CBI crews faced, we must be that much more honest with ourselves in how we train and hold each other accountable,” Campbell said. “The CHEAT callsign reminds us of the inherent danger in flying and the professionalism required to do it well.”

Master Sgt. Mike Hopson, Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of the 913th Airlift Group Standardization and Evaluation, said the callsign “reminds us that we are here to support our joint and multinational partners, which is exactly what the crews ‘cheating’ death did when they flew the hump during WWII.”

Today, the 327 AS’s mission is to be the “premier C-130J squadron in the Air Force,” Campbell said, “but we can only do so by learning from the men and women that have flown for so many years before us.”

For those interested in continuing the legacy of combat airlift, email 327th.pilot.recruiting@gmail.com