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NEWS | Aug. 1, 2006

Team Charleston members participate in Operation Iron Thunder

By Senior Airman Alice Moore 437 AW Public Affairs

Team Charleston participated in Operation Iron Thunder July 17 through July 20. The exercise, hosted by the 77th Fighter Squadron, Shaw AFB, S.C., included participation from 30 different U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine units as well as British and NATO units. 

During the four-day multinational exercise, approximately 100 aircraft simulated a full-scale invasion of the North Carolina coast. The airspace of the exercise reached from 225 nautical miles off the coast of Jacksonville, Fla., to 250 nautical miles off the coast of Norfolk, Va. 

"The airspace was full of just about every strike and support aircraft in the Air Force inventory, to include F-15s, F-16s, F-22s, B-1s, B-2s and E-3s. Charleston C-17s supported the exercise with a realistic airfield seizure exercise that demonstrated the versatility of the C-17. After fighter and strike aircraft cleared the DZ, high altitude airdrops of Special Ops Marines were followed by formation static line passes of Marine jumpers," said Capt. Dan Lang, 17th Airlift Squadron, wing tactics 

During the final day, C-17 crews demonstrated the insertion of initial security forces into a hostile area, using a temporary airfield constructed by friendly forces. 

"This is what Airmen do every day in Iraq," said Capt. Aaron Walenga, 15 AS pilot and aircraft commander. "We want to incorporate more of what we're doing in the real world." 

The temporary airfield is a 4,000 ft. mobile runway known as Bogue Marine Corps Auxiliary Landing Field. It's comprised of aluminum matting which can be transported and set up throughout the world to form an instant hard landing surface. While Charleston AFB's runway is 9,000 by 200 feet, Bogue is much more challenging for pilots. 

"It's like landing on a toothpick," Captain Walenga said. 

During the exercise the C-17 loaded equipment and Marines from Combat Logistics Company-21, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. Once in the air, the C-17 flew a high-speed low-level route to a tactical approach and short-field landing. Once they landed, they began a rapid engine running offload of the Marines. 

The exercise was an opportunity for all units involved to practice their skills in case of a real-world situation. 

"The more training you do, the more lives you save," said Marine Gunnery Sgt. Dwayne Holt, from Marine Wing Support Squadron 271. 

Once the offloading was complete, the C-17 crew ended their role in the exercise with aerial refueling and then returned to Charleston AFB. 

"We accomplished all the things we wanted to accomplish," Captain Walenga said. "We picked up troops and we hit every target we had on time."