JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska –
Pilots and loadmasters from the U.S. Air Force Reserve’s 317th Airlift Squadron, along with aircraft maintainers from the 315th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, from Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina recently flew to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, for training during their annual tour.
Alaska represents a new challenge for the squadron -- it’s an unfamiliar environment exceedingly different from their usual training airspace in Charleston.
While some of the aspects of the training remain the same, the flight to Alaska offered fresh challenges opportunities. For example, en route to Alaska the squadron traversed a low-level-flying route through the mountainous terrain east of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Flying at 300 feet (about the length of a football field) and visually navigating a route with sharp relief is one example of the training offered here that these pilots simply can’t practice often on the East Coast.
One of the newest members of the flight crew, loadmaster Airman 1st Class Dakota Price got his feet wet on this training mission. Everything he’s learned in training, through technical school and on-the-job has been put to the test here in Alaska. For example, Price was tasked to perform secondary chart-reading duties – something that loadmasters don’t typically do, but is nonetheless an important skill to have.
“It’s all about figuring out where you’re at, marking each location so that you know where you’re going, where you’re turning, elevation, obstacles and terrain,” said Price, when asked what “chart reading” consisted of, and what information it provided. “It’s good to get that exposure… and to be more familiar with what’s going on [in the cockpit].”
Another important scenario infrequently practiced, but extremely vital, is dropping of paratroopers and mission-essential cargo. After a few hours of low-level-flying with a full complement of U.S. Army airborne infantry just east of JBER, the two C-17 Globemaster IIIs from Charleston along with three additional C-17s from JBER’s 517th Airlift Squadron proceeded to the designated drop zone. The first mission was aborted just moments before drop due to shifting wind conditions, but the second -- carrying the 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry, A Troop, 2nd platoon -- delivered on-target.
“It’s important to practice these things now, for them and for us, getting people out the door, making sure we do it safely and effectively,” said Senior Airman Brendin Peters, the loadmaster for the drops. “Training like this, in a new environment -- it’s good for the pilots, it’s good for us and it’s good for the paratroopers.”
Joint operations like these are integral to the nation’s world-wide war fighting capability, and help ensure cohesion when the time comes to support an actual contingency.
The unique and diverse training area around the airbase offered yet another important tool – a semi-prepared dirt-and-gravel runway, used to practice takeoffs and landings in areas where there may not be the time or means to build a conventional runway. These semi-prepared-runway operations -- or SPRO for short -- are part of the C-17s capability, though they aren’t practiced often. Though these makeshift sites are hardly more than 3,500 feet in length, they are all that the 282,400 pound (141.2 ton) C-17 needs. After a smooth, only slightly rougher than usual landing (due to the nature of the runway, and increased payload), U.S. Army Soldiers with the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division offloaded a Stryker Interim Armored Vehicle onto the Donnelly Landing Zone to conduct training of their own in the area.
On Sunday morning, the squadron prepped to depart JBER back to JB Charleston. During the five days of training the 317th AS pilots and loadmasters gained valuable experience, utilizing the full capability of the C-17 in areas and activities previously unvisited by the squadron. Should the unit be called to support a future contingency, the confidence and skills learned during this trip will surely come in handy.