Friday, July 22, 2011


Leader staff writer

Teams from Little Rock Air Force Base and community leaders took off Friday morning for the biennial Air Mobility Command rodeo competition at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., where U.S. and foreign teams will show off their skills.

Col. Mike Minihan, 19th Air-lift Wing commander, opened Friday’s rodeo breakfast by recognizing team leaders and members and guests, including the “Fab 4,” mayors Gary Fletcher, Virginia Hillman, Bill Cypert and former Mayor Tommy Swaim.

“This is not just our Air Force base,” Col. Mark Czelusta, 314th Airlift Wing commander, told the crowd gathered for the send-off. “It’s your Air Force base.”

“This is my first rodeo,” Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert said. “I’m looking forward to just the excitement, to see our military in action, their precision and competitiveness.”

“These guys and gals out here at the base do a great job every day, and this rodeo event gives them an opportunity to compete against other wings and crews across the country,” said Larry Wilson, First Arkansas Bank and Trust president and CEO. “I’m confident they will do well. I think it’s important for our military personnel to get support for what they do.”

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said he was looking forward to the excitement about everything he’s been told.

“I look forward to the competition, seeing the best of the best,” the mayor said. “We come together as a family in a situation like this. For military, it’s always family.

“This gives us a chance to show that Little Rock Air Force Base has a bigger family, the community itself,” he added.

Team captains say they are ready for the “spirited competition.”

Rodeo 2011 will be held Sun-day through Friday at McChord Air Force Base, Wash. The international competition is comparable to the Olympics for air-mobility, combat- and flying-operations forces.

Team members were recommended and selected by three squadron leaders as the best LRAFB has to offer.

Maj. Jake Sheddan, 62nd Airlift Squadron assistant director of operations, is team chief for the 314th Airlift Wing. Lieut. Col. Roger Morin, 53rd Airlift Squadron operations officer, is the team chief for the 19th Airlift Wing.

The teams will be competing against each other, but both said they’d be winners as long as LRAFB is recognized for bringing home trophies.

Morin compared his attitude to being on a football team in college, saying that if his football team didn’t make it to the championship, he would cheer on a rival from his conference before rooting for a team from another conference.

Sheddan added, “When we come home, it’s still team Little Rock. When we leave Colorado Springs (which is where the teams will stop before completing the rest of the journey to McChord), it’s game on.”

With forces worldwide participating in the event, LRAFB airmen will have a chance to meet and build relationships with people from many other countries, he said.

Sheddan said the rodeo is about “building partnership capacity” with allied nations to work with them in the future, especially in relief efforts overseas.

One advantage Little Rock rodeo competitors have, Sheddan said, is that they are bringing four C-130s, while many countries are only able to bring one aircraft.

Two legacy C-130s and two J-model C-130s will go to Washington with the teams. Sheddan and Morin compared the legacy to a rotary telephone and the J-model to an iPhone. The main difference is that the J-models have so much more automation.

Teams will compete in numerous events. LRAFB will also compete in some events for the first time.

A finance team has never attended rodeo to compete, but one will go this year. The finance team will be placed in a simulated zone where they will have to aid a country with relief efforts. The event includes about 200 scenarios they will have to complete and earn points for.

For the first time, LRAFB security forces will be judged on their marksmanship skills in one rodeo event.

The events Morin said are usually the most anticipated include the assault landing, combat offload and engine running onload.

During the assault-landing event crews will be judged on how well they can land a plane on a 60-foot-wide strip based on how close the plane gets to an identified stopping point.

The distance between the landing wheels of a C-130 is 11 to 12 feet, Morin said. Assault landing strips are usually about 3,000 feet long.

He explained that this tests the crew’s ability to land on dirt airstrips like those in Afghanistan, even though the competition strip at McChord is paved.

Morin added that this is the event that requires some of the most intensive practice. The teams have been practicing since May.

During combat offload, teams will be judged on how accurately they can drop a pallet of supplies. A location will be identified and the team will gain or lose points based on how close to that point the packet it drops lands.

Teams will be allowed to use an electronic device that can be dropped and give readings back to the crew about wind speed and direction at different altitudes.

Without that device, a crew has to measure the wind speed and direction at the altitude the plane is flying. They then use percentage formulas to determine how to drop a package so it will land where it needs to land.

The engine-running onload competition judges teams based on how fast and how safely they can load a packet of supplies onto an aircraft.