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C-130 squadron makes significant impact in Afghanistan

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Renni Thornton
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
The men and women of the 772nd Expeditionary Airlift Squadron at Kandahar Airfield have made historic contributions in the area of responsibility by conducting combat airdrop missions and delivering more than 8.5 million pounds of supplies to troops at forward operating bases over a 16-month period.

The 41st Airlift Squadron from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., is home to the deployed unit providing forces to the 772nd EAS since March 2009, said Lt. Col. Gilberto Martinez, commander of the 772nd EAS. He is also the commander of the 41st AS at Little Rock AFB and deployed to KAF with his unit.

The men and women of the 41st AS have been the sole supporters of the 772nd EAS, providing planes and people since March 2009.

"The 41st AS received the tasking to begin operations at KAF in 2009. We stood up the 772nd EAS on March 15, 2009, and conducted our first combat airdrop mission April 24, 2009," said Colonel Martinez. "Our squadron has been performing this mission ever since."

The 772nd's primary mission sets include airland, aeromedical evacuation and airdrop missions. To date, the unit has conducted nearly 9,000 sorties and continues to meet mission requirements. They have transported over 85,000 personnel, and more than 25,000 tons or 50 million pounds of cargo throughout the U.S. Central Command AOR.

Many of the missions often crisscross the Middle East from places in Iraq and Afghanistan to many remote bases in country.

Assigned to the 451st AEW, the 772nd EAS works closely with the 451st Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron to provide time-critical, lifesaving support to the war fighter.

The 451st EAES medical teams are responsible for transporting injured service members, Afghan locals and coalition forces members from different areas in Afghanistan to more stabilized medical care. They do so by providing stabilizing medical care in flight, normally aboard C-130s.

The AE mission is about 15 percent of the772nd's flying mission, said Colonel Martinez. Since, the squadron has transported approximately 500 to hospitals at KAF and Bagram Airfield and from forward operating bases throughout Afghanistan.

"We transport troops around the AOR constantly. We conduct theater personnel moves -- if they need to get there, we assist," said Colonel Martinez.

Another of the unit's unique accomplishments is the airdrop mission, said Maj. Jason Priddle, operations officer at the 772nd EAS. As it stands, it only accounts for about five percent of the unit's mission, but it is what sets the 772nd EAS apart from other units.

"In 2009, we dropped more than 2,000 containerized delivery system bundles between April and December 2009. That is nearly 4 million pounds of supplies to the warfighter. As of June 2010, the 772nd EAS has already exceeded that," said Major Priddle.

At the current rate, the unit expects to drop more than 5,000 bundles in 2010.

The types of supplies vary, said Staff Sgt. Chris Tyree, loadmaster and joint airdrop inspector. Supplies could be anything from food and water to fuel to ammunition to trucks and trailers--just about anything and everything.

The airdrops the unit conducts have more impact on the war fighter, said Sergeant Tyree. "We are directly supplying people assigned to the FOBs. They are getting the things they need to continue their daily mission."

As a joint airdrop inspector, Sergeant Tyree is responsible for ensuring the pallets are properly rigged with parachutes to ensure a safe landing.

Of the airdrop missions flown in the AOR, the unit can account for almost one quarter of the AFCENT total, said Colonel Martinez.

Worthy of noting is the recovery rate the unit holds. The recovery rate refers to the number of loads dropped that landed in the intended location and were recoverable by the troops on the ground. "Right now we have a recovery rate of 97.2 percent, up from 94.2 reached in 2009," said Colonel Martinez.

How airdrops work

Airdrops begin with taskings from Air Mobility Division, Air Forces Central Command, said Capt. James Speakes, deputy operations officer, and officer in charge of tactics for the unit.

"With this job, you spend most of your day working through the next day's schedule and taskings. I've been part of flying crews for many years," said the navigator. "This job requires you to be meticulous and pay attention to the details, all the time," Captain Speakes said.

One of the best things about the job is being able to support the war fighter on the ground, said Captain Speakes.

"One night, we got an emergency airdrop tasking. The crew was already on alert so we were able to recall them. Two hours later, they had their briefing and we sent them out the door. That night, the crew dropped 20 pallets of supplies to ground troops, who had been engaged in a fire fight with enemy forces.

Another unique aspect to the job, said Captain Speakes, is the humanitarian airdrops the unit has participated in. In the past three months, the unit has delivered several humanitarian drops of food, water, and other supplies to local Afghan communities. The special part about these missions is how the supplies are delivered -- using coordinates only, not to normal, specialized drop zones.

"We know that those drops are helping people in the surrounding area (of the drop)," he said. "Most of our drops are to the warfighter but we also know that our mission here is to provide Afghans with assistance as well."

Captain Speakes is assigned to the 61st Airlift Squadron, also from Little Rock AFB, Ark. He volunteered for this deployment to supplement the normal 41st AS manning because, he said, it is an opportunity to broaden his skills. As a navigator on the C-130H model aircraft, working as chief of tactics here allows him to use his planning skills in the combat zone.

What is unique about the C-130J unit is that they have carried out the mission at KAF since March 2009. Routinely, other units from different bases would share the mission and rotate in and out of the expeditionary unit after a few months but the 157-person squadron at Little Rock AFB has consistently provided pilots, loadmasters, maintenance and other staff members for the past 16 months straight.

"The families of the men and women at the 41st AS have sacrificed so much by being without their loved ones during this period of time," said Colonel Martinez. "I couldn't be more proud of the people in our unit. They have done a superior job this past year-and-a-half and I couldn't nor wouldn't ask them to change anything. This has been a job well done and an experience we will never forget. We have been a part of history here and I am very proud of all of them."