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Loadmasters push limits, secure solutions

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Loadmasters assigned to the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron from Littlerock Air Force Base, Arkansas, completed three back-to-back redeployments of R-11 fuel trucks from an undisclosed location in the Air Force Central Command area of responsibility, March 15.

As the Air Force reduces its footprint in the region the ability to forward deploy mission critical equipment to key sites throughout the AOR is more imperative than ever before. Airmen here are not only learning to do more with less, they are becoming experts in the art of innovation.

“There’s little room for error when it comes to the R-11,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jason Buttke, 774 EAS loadmaster. “The mere size of it compared to the cargo compartment of the C-130J makes it a challenge. You have to watch clearances on all four sides of the vehicle, and because of the weight of the axels we have a very small window to park the vehicle in the aircraft without exceeding structural limitations.”

Despite the complexities involved with transporting heavy equipment, missions on par with that of the R-11 redeployment will likely become routine for loadmasters operating out of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing.

“With far fewer Forward Operating Bases across the country to use as a base of operations, the ability to support the warfighter has grown increasingly more difficult,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Pate, 455th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron commander. “That is especially true when supporting combat forces that are reliant upon rotary lift assets for tasks such as movement of assault teams or rescue forces.  Establishing an expeditionary refueling capability closer to the planned area of operations maximizes the capabilities that we bring to the fight, including quicker movement of forces and decreased response times for Quick Reaction Forces, medical evacuation or Personnel Recovery, and resupply.”

The ability of the R-11 to support a myriad of aircraft for a prolonged period of time makes it an ideal candidate for forward deployment and an operational linchpin.

“The R-11 is a 6,000-gallon aircraft refueling truck,” said Staff Sgt. William McCrae, 455 ELRS Fuels Service Center controller. “It is extremely versatile and can issue fuel to anything from C-12s to C-5s. Fuel is the lifeblood of the Air Force. Without fuel, planes don’t fly; without fuel, pilots are pedestrians.”

Airmen of the 774th have no intention of allowing that to happen. Less than half an hour elapsed from wheels down at the pick-up site to upload completion.

They made it look easy,” said Buttke. “We spent a lot of time prepping the aircraft and discussing our loading operations to include where people would be positioned, calls that needed to be made and clearances that needed to be observed prior to even arriving at the airfield.  Having a good plan prior to seeing the load made the task seem easier than it really was.  Having chains and tie-down equipment prepositioned and knowing the restraint criteria helped expedite the job of securing the load for flight.”

The diligence and adaptability demonstrated by the 774 EAS crew during the R-11 three-peat mission is representative of the Air Force’s unwavering commitment to support the fight, as well as the warfighter.

“Supporting operations in Afghanistan today requires innovative approaches to provide the world-class capabilities and support that the warfighter has come to expect from the Air Force,” Pate said. “The ability to rapidly establish expeditionary operational sites has mitigated the decrease in U.S. FOBs and allows partnered operations across the country.  The Air Force will continue to support the fight and the warfighter, wherever needed, despite the challenges presented by a reduced support infrastructure.  The movement of R-11s to the place of employment is an example of our commitment to provide solutions, despite the challenges, to enable U.S./Afghan partnered operations.”