Flying With The EPOS Bag

Bags containing an Emergency Passenger Oxygen System, or EPOS, are seen aboard an U.S. Air Force aircraft. (Air Force photo)

Bags containing an Emergency Passenger Oxygen System, or EPOS, are seen aboard an U.S. Air Force aircraft. (Air Force photo)

140213-Z-VA676-071 -- A C-17 Globemaster III from the 445th Airlift Wing moves into position behind a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 127th Wing for an in-flight refueling. The 445th is an Air Force Reserve Wing based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The 127th is part of the Michigan Air National Guard and operates from Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich. The refueling took place over southern Kentucky, Feb. 13, 2014. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by TSgt. Dan Heaton / Released)

140213-Z-VA676-071 -- A C-17 Globemaster III from the 445th Airlift Wing moves into position behind a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 127th Wing for an in-flight refueling. The 445th is an Air Force Reserve Wing based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The 127th is part of the Michigan Air National Guard and operates from Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich. The refueling took place over southern Kentucky, Feb. 13, 2014. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by TSgt. Dan Heaton / Released)

SELFRIDGE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mich. -- At about 10 minutes after 10 o'clock on a Thursday morning, Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Liggins gave me the words that may save my life one day. He pointed to a little green bag hanging along the passenger compartment of aircraft 58-0049 and told me how to use the Emergency Passenger Oxygen System.

Ah, yes. The EPOS bag.

If you fly aboard an U.S. Air Force airlift aircraft, you get the briefing. Like the name implies, the EPOS is used to provide breathing oxygen to aircraft passengers in the event of some type of emergency. Instructions about the use and location of the EPOS, which is kept in a small green bag and hung along the backs of the web seating benches on military aircraft, are part of the standard brief for passengers on a military flight.

On this day, a routine training flight aboard a KC-135 Stratotanker from Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., like every other day I have flown with the Air Force, we didn't need the EPOS bag. I am, however, a creature of habit. And the briefing about the EPOS is part of the ritual that is a touchstone for all my military flights over the years.

There was that time, very early in my Air Force career, when, on a lengthy flight, a master sergeant strapped the EPOS bag to his body and wore it like a purse for the entire flight. I spent the entire flight wondering if he knew something I didn't about that aircraft or about that day's pilots. As I recall, that flight - on a C-130 Hercules, an aircraft designed to be functional, not comfortable - was very smooth and was capped off by a landing in which the aircraft gently touched down and rolled to a stop, without so much as a single jerk. Still, that master sergeant wearing that EPOS bag had me spooked. I was never more than an arm's reach away from a bag that day.

Then there was the time, on a 17-hour flight over the Atlantic Ocean in which, bored to tears - I finished my book and had hours and hours to kill -- I read and re-read the EPOS instructions on the outside of the bag a couple of dozen times, desperate for something to keep me occupied. Another time, on a particularly full flight in which the turbulence was severe, I silently counted the number of passengers and the number of EPOS bags, just to make sure I would get one. I even debated strapping on a bag that day, but after several counts and re-counts I was certain there were more EPOS bags than there were passengers and I would have one available. No purse necessary.

Someday, either the Air Force will change or I will change. And then there will be no more flights, at least for me, with EPOS bags on them. I do not look forward to that day.

That little bag and I have had a lot of adventures together. I can't wait for my next pre-flight briefing.

Comprised of approximately 1,700 personnel and flying both the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the KC-135 Stratotanker, the 127th Wing supports Air Mobility Command, Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operation Command by providing highly-skilled Airmen to missions domestically and overseas. The 127th Wing is the host unit at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, which marks its 97th year of continuous military air operations in 2014.