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Senior Airman Dan Simonsen, Senior Master Sgt. Steve Martin and Senior Airman Marcus Wright, loadmasters with the 772nd Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, perform a Low Cost, Low Altitude airdrop from the back of a C-130J in southwest Afghanistan Nov. 15. They are deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Tristan Hinderliter)
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New day, new job for Expeditionary Airlift Squadron at Kandahar

Posted 12/3/2012   Updated 12/3/2012 Email story   Print story


by Capt. Tristan Hinderliter
451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

12/3/2012 - KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan  -- For aircrews with the 772nd Expeditionary Airlift Squadron here, every day brings a unique and challenging mission.

On one sortie they may be airdropping food, ammo and fuel to Special Operations troops at a remote Forward Operating Base. On the next, they might transport troops to or from an austere location, move prisoners to a secure facility, provide airlift to Afghan National Army allies, perform aeromedical evacuation, or transport distinguished visitors - often doing many of these on the same day.

"Not only do our aircrews have to be good pilots and loadmasters, they have to do logistics planning, personnel work, perform security detail on flights, and even serve as a command and control node for those different folks that are flying on the plane with them," said Maj. Sean Callahan, director of operations for the 772nd EAS.

Callahan and approximately 150 other Airmen in the squadron are deployed here from Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas. In addition to operators and the maintainers that keep the C-130J's flying, the 772nd also has aviation resource management personnel, intelligence analysts, tacticians, aircrew flight equipment technicians and medical professionals.

The squadron averages 50 sorties a day, split up between seven crews. Each sortie brings a new and interesting challenge. Although 772nd EAS Airmen make tactical airlift look easy, most people have no idea the behind-the-scenes coordination required to execute those missions.

Aircrews have to coordinate with a wide variety of agencies, including Fly-Away Security Teams, various NATO units, and a myriad of logistics organizations all over Afghanistan. Even more extraordinary is the diverse operating environments C-130 crews fly in, from high-altitude airdrops in an unpressurized airplane at 20,000 feet, flying passengers to Kyrgyzstan, the United Arab Emirates, or Pakistan, or landing on a small dirt airstrip in the middle of the desert.

The 772nd EAS, known informally as the "Gun Runners," performs the large majority of airdrop missions in theater, averaging about two airdrop missions per day. Most airdrop missions utilize the conventional Container Delivery System, which can deliver more than 30,000 pounds of supplies to troops on the ground. Another method used less frequently is the Low-Cost, Low-Altitude system which provides a very precise and inexpensive method for resupply.

One mission in November brought a fresh set of challenges to one C-130J crew.

The crew was made up of Capt. Russell Neice, pilot and aircraft commander; 1st Lt. Rob Consiglio, copilot; and Senior Airman Dan Simonsen and Senior Airman Marcus Wright, loadmasters. On this mission, the crew would perform two airdrops, one conventional and one at low altitude. The latter can be especially challenging for the crew, as they approach the drop zone flying at 300 feet above the ground over uneven terrain.

In the back of the plane, the loadmasters donned their harnesses and secured the straps that hooked up to the floor of the aircraft. As they opened the ramp, the sound of the wind rushed in and the brown desert and low, jagged mountains of southwest Afghanistan appeared below. The pilots gave a countdown, and right on time the loadmasters gave a great shove and the 600-lb bundles slid out the back and the parachutes opened up, catching the wind with a great "whoosh."

"I think the most rewarding missions we do are airdrop," Callahan said. "We fly airdrop missions because Soldiers on the ground need critical supplies that can't be delivered using more conventional methods. Airdrop missions require a combination of precision flying, solid teamwork between the pilots and the loadmasters, good communication between the ground party and the aircrew, and properly rigged parachutes and bundles - and often performed in situations where the bad guys are trying to shoot us."

This was the second LCLA airdrop for Neice, who is on his second deployment to KAF and his first as an aircraft commander.

"Flying here as an aircraft commander is a lot different than flying as a co-pilot," he said. "There are more things you have to take into consideration. Every time we land in a new place, there could be a change in the mission."

One of the most memorable experiences for him was having the chance to take one of his friends from Camp Bastion to Manas, Kyrgyzstan, for redeployment, he said.

It's that camaraderie that's the best thing about the deployment, Neice and the other crewmembers said.

With the wide variety of missions flown across the entire theater, tactical airlift missions provide a very intimate perspective of the overall campaign.

"The things we do touch everybody in a personal way on every single sortie," Callahan said. "It's very rewarding to know our efforts make such a difference."

12/5/2012 3:50:45 AM ET
The 772nd EAS is composed of a vast group of professionals that I enjoy working with every day. They possess a unique talent that allows for the most efficient and effective way to accomplish the mission quickly and safely. This team delivers and they make the job look easy. I am proud to have the opportunity to work with them.Sailanka L. Pangilinan MSgt USAF451 AEW Command Post Kandahar Airfield Afghanistan
Sailanka L. Pangilinan, Kandahar Airfield Afghanistan
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