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774th EAS provides mission versatility to Afghan theater

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa
  • 455th Expeditionary Airlift Wing Public Affairs

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- The lighting inside the C-130J Hercules illuminates the aircrew’s faces a chartreuse hue. The C-130 comes to a screeching halt on a runway less than half the length of those typically used at stateside airfields.


The cargo bay door is opened onto a pitch black airstrip – a shock for those used to seeing bright lights guiding pilots down the ramp.


The airfield is near Farah, a remote location in western Afghanistan. For C-130J pilots belonging to the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron out of Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, this is exactly the atypical situation they train for.


“The crews always love the challenge – getting the Herk dirty, that’s what we live for,” said Lt. Col. Sarah Santoro, 774th EAS Commander.


Afghanistan has been called the “Herk’s Playground.” The high pressure altitude; extreme temperature disparity; and harsh, mountainous terrain, make for a challenging environment that often pushes aircraft to maximum performance.


“Taking off out of [Farah] we were about 130,000 pounds, which is max performing on that strip [for that mission’s performance conditions],” said Capt. Nick Bonner, 774th EAS C-130J aircraft commander. “That is something you rarely do in peacetime operations – where you actually max out an LZ.


“That’s the challenge – taking the aircraft to its limit, your limit and getting the mission done.”


In order to prepare for missions like Farah, the current rotation of C-130J pilots and loadmasters began training months out from their deployment. They held realistic training exercises in Alaska as well as Green Flag-Little Rock to prepare for the diverse mission set Afghanistan offers with significant terrain, adverse weather, and diverse types of cargo movements.


“There’s training that we do at home and then talk to the people that have the experience, who have been to places like this, getting ideas and techniques,” Bonner said. “Then we put all that together so that when we face issues, we’ll actually be prepared for it.”


The “J” model of the C-130 Hercules currently being used in Afghanistan has upgrades making it even more suited to the setting here.


The versatility offered by the C-130J allows it to be used in a variety of tactical airlift missions throughout the Afghan theater – including everything from aeromedical evacuations to missions like the one to Farah – providing airlift for Resolute Support train, advise, and assist mission.


“The complex operating environment of Afghanistan, with the very rugged terrain that you see around here, the [C-130]J is very well-suited for that,” said Santoro. “We have extra power, we have extra pallet positions and we can get into those remote landing strips that we need to get into.  Having more power means we can go farther, faster, higher …to get the job done here in Afghanistan.”


In addition to the support they provide to Resolute Support Mission and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, the 774th EAS goes wherever U.S. Central Command needs them.


“There was a dirt landing zone that we had to go into recently, that literally the only platform that could get the mission done was the C-130J,” said Santoro. “So they called the 7-7-4 and we moved what needed to be moved.”


The cargo bay can be reconfigured to suit a variety of mission sets to move outsized and non-standard cargo, as well as large numbers of personnel or paratroopers. It can be converted to an airborne hospital. Cargo and personnel can be delivered to an airstrip or airdropped according to the situation.


“That’s something that’s unique to the C-130 – we are rapidly reconfigurable to take anything you need moved.  You let us know and we can get it there--anywhere, anytime,” Santoro said with a smile.


Stepping out of the aircraft onto the dark airstrip of Farah, one can barely make out the silhouette of towering mountains on either side. Emerging from the darkness are vehicles and special operations personnel prepared to move on to their next mission.

 The Herk and its crew are ready.