AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar --
After 11 years of deploying here supporting the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility, Airmen from the 914th Airlift Wing out of Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, N.Y., will say their goodbyes as they end their rotation and fly out with their C-130 Hercules’ for the final time before they transition to KC-135 Stratotankers.
The 914th AW has deployed Airmen and C-130s here since 2005 in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. They have supported thousands of combat missions, delivered thousands of tons of equipment and supplies, and transported thousands of personnel throughout the AOR.
“Our primary mission here is tactical airlift. We conduct intratheater airlift, medical evacuations with the 379th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, distinguished visitor missions and airdrop missions throughout the AFCENT AOR,” said Maj. Ben Canetti, 746th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron director of operations. “We put anything and everything that can fit into a C-130 and transport whatever needs to be transported within Afghanistan, Iraq and Horn of Africa.”
Approximately 150 Airmen deploy to the 746th EAS and 746th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit each rotation. Within the last three months they have flown more than 1,000 hours in support of OIR -- four times the rate they conduct missions back at home station.
According to Canetti, their mission is unique in many ways to include routinely landing on a 3,000-foot dirt runway to flying only 300 feet off the ground in other areas. The crews can transform the aircraft into whatever is needed to include aeromedical evacuation support.
“We can go to places no other aircraft can. We fly low level tactical missions to insert airborne troops and cargo via our airdrop mission”, he added. “We’re very unique in the fact that we handle the intratheater mobility support that large aircraft cannot do. We’ll get a call anytime and anywhere, and we’ll be ready to pick up and send cargo and personnel wherever it is required.”
With the multiple demands for airlift support in a single day, Airmen from the 746th EAS and 379th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron work nonstop to meet the needs of the mission despite the hot weather here.
“These extreme temperatures are tough not only on the aircraft, but also on our Airmen,” Canetti said. “The entire desert environment doesn’t meddle well with aviation, however our incredible maintenance team continues to provide mission capable aircraft regardless of the numerous challenges.”
According to Senior Airman Jason Mann, 379th EAMXS aerospace maintenance journeyman, the best thing about his job is seeing a C-130 he and his team worked on fly after working on it for hours.
“Working under the heat can be a challenge, but when I look at the big picture and how it helps the mission, it is all worth it in the end,” Mann said. “We aren’t the only ones who work on the aircraft, but I know and see that we are a big part of it. When I see and hear the great missions we accomplish here, it gives me a great sense of pride.”
Now that their mission with C-130s is coming to an end, new and veteran deployers from Niagara Falls have mixed emotions. It is an end of an era however a new chapter in an already proud history, Canetti said.
Now the 914th AW starts a new chapter as the KC-135 Stratotanker make their way to their base.
“C-130s are our legacy and our heritage; it’s a bittersweet moment for us because after six deployments here, it has come to an end,” Canetti said. “It’s sad and exciting at the same time. We attend meetings with the KC-135 crews, so we have been asking them a lot of questions and they’ve been very helpful.”
As they look towards the closing of this chapter in their home station’s mission, Airmen from the 914th AW expressed gratitude for the opportunity to work with Airmen from around the Air Force who make up the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing throughout the last decade.
“Everything that is going on here is incredible,” said Chief Master Sgt. Stephen Trosterud, 379th EAMXS superintendent. “We are thankful and happy to have been given the opportunity to contribute to the mission.”