SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. –
Frigid temperatures and a winter storm that shut down most of North Carolina Saturday couldn’t stop the 43rd Air Mobility Operations Group and 82nd Airborne Division from holding a Deployment Readiness Exercise at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina, Jan. 6-11.
The exercise was designed to test Air Force and Army outload processes in order to get the 82nd ABN “out the door” in the event the Global Response Force is called into action.
Col. Kelly Holbert, 43rd AMOG commander, said that unlike other exercises, which are designed to train Paratroopers or aircrews, the DRE is designed to test AMOG processes.
“Normally, the primary purpose of the exercise is to support somebody else,” Holbert explained. “This exercise is purpose-built to exercise and evaluate our outbound processes. It’s about getting cargo and personnel prepped and ready, getting the paperwork right, getting the load plans right and making sure we’re doing things safely and on timeline specifically to meet our GRF commitments.”
Focused on the outload process, aircraft participation in the exercise was mostly notional, with 2 C-17 Globemaster IIIs from Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, filling the role. The outload portion, however, was played as realistically as possible, said Lt. Col. Christopher Kiser, 43rd Operations Support Squadron commander.
“We asked the Army to act as if the aircraft were actually here on the ramp,” he said. “Bring the loads into the checkpoint. All the paperwork has to be correct. The load plans have to be correct. They have to pass our joint inspection and our Joint Airdrop Inspection. And they have to get all the way to the ready line to be called up like they’re going onto an actual aircraft. We did that so we could make sure we are testing every single process just like the aircraft are here.”
Air Force Joint Airdrop Inspectors from the 43rd OSS and 43rd Air Mobility Squadron worked with their Army partners to ensure that cargo was properly rigged to be safely dropped from Air Force aircraft according to both Army and Air Force standards.
“It’s Army equipment, but it’s going on Air Force aircraft,” explained Staff Sgt. Kyle Herzog, 43rd OSS Joint Airdrop Inspector. “We both have different rules, so we have to make sure they’re all complied with and that they’re going to work together safely.”
Inspectors check over every pallet and vehicle going on an aircraft to make sure that the load meets weight requirements, is secured correctly and is using the right kind of parachutes. At every step, from when it’s first processed at the Heavy Drop Rigging Facility by Army riggers to the point it’s physically secured to the cargo deck of the aircraft, an Air Force inspector or loadmaster is checking it.
That’s because the consequences of getting a load wrong can be disastrous.
“If we find a big problem when we get out to the jet, you’re talking about scratching loads and stopping missions,” said Staff Sgt. Casey Jackson, 43rd OSS Joint Airdrop Inspector. “Let’s say it passes all that, and it actually gets dropped. You’re talking about hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in equipment burning into the ground. It can be a tedious job, but it keeps you on your toes.”
Once the loads are inspected, they are sent on to the Arrival/Departure Airfield Control Group where they are inspected again and are loaded onto material handling equipment to be sent onto the flightline. They are then loaded onto Air Force aircraft where, once again, they are checked by the loadmasters.
Transloading, inspecting and transporting the equipment to the flightline falls to the aerial porters of the 43rd Air Mobility Squadron. There are about 220 porters in the 43rd AMS, making it the largest flight in the 387-member squadron.
Senior Airman Joshua Slagel, 43rd AMS Joint Inspector, said the DRE is demanding.
“We have about 39 JI’s working during this DRE,” he said. “We’re working 24-hour missions, and it’s been very high tempo.”
With the short-notice deadlines that come with supporting the GRF, the 43rd AMS commander, Lt. Col. Paul Bryant, said they need every Airman to be on their game.
“Our people are under quite a few time constraints,” Bryant said. “We have sequences that are planned and part of the entire GRF mission that have been formulated, and we adhere to those sequences. They work 12-hour shifts, and they will work those shifts until we get that initial echelon off the ground and on its way to the next location. So our Airmen work pretty hard, but we can do it. Everyone knows their job, and we get the mission done.”
Bryant said the process of getting cargo and passengers ready to fly is a joint effort, and the key to success is a close, long-term working relationship with the Army.
“We are working as a joint team to ensure during the inspection process all the way through the loading of cargo and passengers that we are doing it right not just as an Air Force team, but as a joint team,” he said.
Kiser said that relationship doesn’t stop at the end of the exercise.
“We work jointly every day,” he said. “After this exercise is over and these aircraft leave, we’re still working with the Army on a daily basis to make these processes better. It’s constant. It never stops.”
Army Maj. Travis Stellfox, 82nd ABN G-3 Air, is responsible for managing parachute operations for the 82nd ABN. He said a good relationship with the 43rd AMOG is not only convenient, but vital.
“Realistically, in my job, I couldn’t do anything without the 43rd AMOG,” he said. “We work very closely together. Without them, there’s no planes here, and without planes, there are no parachute operations. Interoperability is very important. We’re in constant contact with someone from the Air Force, and it’s important that we keep it that way.”
Holbert said he and his Airmen embrace that close cooperation and that they are aware of the sheer importance of their role in the GRF mission. He said his Airmen are up to the task.
“The GRF would be incapable of getting anywhere without the outload support from our AMOG Airmen,” he said. “It’s an extensive process to get personnel and equipment processed, equipped, out to the aircraft, loaded and launched, and you simply cannot do that without the expertise that is found here. The ability for the Army to have global reach is absolutely facilitated by the Airmen here.”
“We are the first and key piece to getting that mission airborne,” he added.