AL UDEID AIR BASE, QATAR --
A C-130H Hercules was loaded with a 23,000 pound Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting vehicle in less than 20 minutes here today, under cargo lights on an otherwise pitch-black flightline, with dozens of Airmen making it happen. How, exactly? Airmen from the 746th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, 379th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and aerial porters assigned to the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron at Al Udeid Air Base combined efforts to make this seemingly difficult task look easy.
Al Udeid Air Base contains a vast array of mission sets, many of which support coalition forces deployed throughout the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility. The air mobility assets deployed here ensure that critical mission support equipment is delivered to various airfields swiftly and effectively. The 746th EAS uses C-130H’s to execute their mission with the help of other mission support agencies on the installation.
“The 746th EAS supports the Combatant Commander, Combined Forces Air Component Commander, and Director of Mobility Forces by providing airlift throughout the theater,” said Lt. Col. Stephen ‘Stretch’ Catchings, 746th EAS Director of Operations. “We currently support missions for Operations INHERENT RESOLVE and FREEDOM’S SENTINEL. We have the capability to carry out air-land and airdrop missions with any of our aircrew.”
‘Mad Mules’ is the squadron mascot, and these Airmen are proud of the footprint they create to support OIR. Their mantra is simple: constant air support, no matter when, where, or what. Their mighty ‘Herk’ is a fascinating aircraft with an ability to transform to the mission at hand. Catchings mentioned that both aircrew and aircraft are very flexible to the mission and that every mission is different.
“When the crews show up to fly they have to be ready for anything. The mission can change completely from one sortie to another,” said Catchings. “Because of this, the entire crew sometimes has to jump in and reconfigure the aircraft and assist with the loading and unloading process.”
Once airborne, the 746th will reach a Forward Operating Base at an undisclosed location. There, they unload or load their assets. Cargo, medical patients and supplies are just a few of the options they provide when supporting coalition forces and helping save lives.
Catchings mentioned that if it were not for the ‘Mad Mules,’ ground commanders and their units would have to rely more on vulnerable convoys in order to get their personnel and supplies. Without the C-130H’s aeromedical capability, injured combatants would wait days to receive critical care instead of the rapid aeromedical evacuation response of the 746th.
The scene, setting, and magnitude of several base entities converging and completing an almost un-imaginable task is a testament to the technical aptitude, teamwork, and professionalism exhibited by these Airmen. With only inches to spare, the P-19 was loaded and is now off helping support transiting coalition aircraft in Iraq, thanks to the ‘Mad Mules’ and ‘Mighty Ocho’.