Monday, March 30, 2009

TOP STORY >> A key role for C-130Js in buildup

U.S. Air Force Central Combat News

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Air Force officials activated the 772nd Expeditionary Airlift Squadron on March 15 at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan as the NATO base prepares for the buildup of forces to support Operation Enduring Freedom.

The new airlift squadron, which is commanded by Lt. Col. Dan Tulley of Little Rock Air Force Base, will be flying the C-130J Hercules and serve under the 451st Air Expeditionary Group to assist with the increase of U.S. troops in the region.

The day before the activation ceremony, local missions were being flown by American aircrews when the squadron’s first four aircraft arrived at Kandahar Airfield. 

The airfield used by several coalition partners in southern Afghanistan is undergoing a massive expansion and construction in every direction as part of the installation. 

The new mission will have the 772nd EAS airmen focused primarily inside Afghanistan, said Tulley, a native of Bell Air, Md.

“The ‘bread and butter’ of any combat airlift unit is tactical airlift,” said Tulley. “Being here in country will allow us to focus on the forward operating bases and getting supplies to the people who need it here on the ground.”

The new unit, which will have about 120 operations and maintenance airmen, comes from the only active-duty Air Force organization flying the C-130J model in combat: the 41st Airlift Squadron from Little Rock AFB.

Before being stood up at Kandahar Airfield, the unit was stationed with the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing at another installation in Southwest Asia responsible for operations for both the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters.

For the aviators performing the daily mission, the change is welcome.

“It’s a definite change of scenery,” said Capt. Shawn Johnson, a C-130 pilot deployed from Little Rock AFB.

“We’re looking forward to becoming Afghanistan-focused as our missions will become more specialized to this particular area, and at the same time, there will be more for us to study, like some of the airdrops we’ll be doing here. It will definitely broaden our knowledge further on how to utilize the aircraft,” Johnson said.

Master Sgt. Patrick Drozd, of Hallettsville, Texas, a loadmaster also deployed from Little Rock AFB, agreed.

“This is going to be fun,” he said. “We are supporting the troops and the (forward operating bases) in-country, and being the only active-duty C-130J unit in theater, we will have the opportunity to lay the foundation for future C-130J operations here.”

With the logistical issues completed, all the incoming 41st AS airmen had to focus on was what they deployed to do: keep their aircraft flying.

“We can fulfill air tasking orders right now,” said Tech. Sgt. Donny Poland, a crew chief from Little Rock AFB and a Philippines native who deployed ahead of the rest of his squadron on the advance team. “Being here really makes it feel like we are accomplishing something important and contributing.”

“Tactical airlift is a high-demand asset here and we are at the leading edge of the Afghanistan surge of forces,” said Col. Ted Osowski, the 451st AEG commander who is deployed from the Air Warfare Center at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

“The C-130J is a very capable aircraft and we are happy to have them. They’re going to be busy,” Osowski said.

However, for the command staff of the 451st, bedding down a unit of approximately 120 new people into an already cramped area was no easy task. The first issue to be tackled was gaining ramp space for the squadron’s aircraft. 

“Before we were able to park these aircraft on ‘Whiskey’ ramp, we had to find a new home for contractor Mi-8 helicopters that were out there previously,” said Chief Master Sgt. Steven Bohannon, 451st AEG superintendent, deployed from McChord Air Force Base, Wash.

“We put out a contract for over 200,000 square feet of aluminum matting made up of four-foot-by-four-foot squares,” Bohannon said.

The contract was awarded to a local company, but its was not trained to lay the matting, according to Bohannon.

Adding to the already challenging task was the assignment of Air Force security escorts — they would not arrive in time for construction to begin and there would be no place for the aircraft to park.

Working with a local Civil Engineer detachment, the 451st identified security escorts from within its ranks. The heavy operational repair squadron engineers then began helping the local workers lay the matting, getting the project completed in time to relocate the Mi-8s and providing crucial ramp space for the soon-to-be-arriving C-130Js.

Once the ramp was completed, the 451st AEG needed to create workspace for the new airmen. Bohannon again reached out to the Red HORSE unit and a team of Air Force civil engineers who travel throughout the area of responsibility. They were able to erect a clamshell tent for maintenance and two small tents for operations.

“This group was the J-2 team from (U.S. Air Forces Central) A-7,” Bohannon said. “They travel the (area of responsibility) working on large projects and were able to complete this job in three days. They were nailing the last stakes the day these guys came in.”