TORUN, Poland –
Airlifters and air refuelers from across Air Mobility Command airdropped approximately 5,000 U.S. Army paratroopers and allied forces into Poland as part of Exercise Swift Response June 7, 2016.
Swift Response is an exercise involving U.S. and Allied Air Force and airborne forces, jointly demonstrating their ability to conduct a complex and large-scale insertion of forces.
C-17s were selected in this exercise for their ability to perform direct delivery inter-theater airlift. This capability allows high value cargo or other assets to be delivered directly to the battlefield user anywhere in the world at any time.
"Cargo can be moved a lot of different ways, such as boats or on the ground or with smaller aircraft such as C-130s However, the C-17 has the ability to put anything anywhere in the world in one flight," said Capt. JohnRoss Wendler, Exercise Swift Response Air Mission planner.
The 437th Airlift Wing was selected to lead the aerial delivery mission because of its multifaceted C-17 mission. Wendler, a weapons officer who is also trained to the Special Operations Low Level II standard, was selected as lead planner for the airdrop portion of the exercise. Planning a large-scale airdrop in foreign airspace required complex coordination with multi-national partners. Details ranged from airspace deconfliction and air-to-air tanker coordination to ground maintenance support.
"All the planning and everything that goes into it while coordinating with all of the different agencies is a lot of work," said Wendler. "At the start of the mission, when engines were turning and aircraft were taking off, it was such a good feeling. But to get to our objective with six of the aircraft and have every drop be completely successful was even more rewarding."
Executing the airdrop mission takes teamwork and coordination between multiple crew members within the formation to accurately drop cargo on the drop zone. Wendler and his team's hours of planning culminated in the formation of C-17s flying over the target on time.
"One week prior, planners were working around the clock, handling the smallest details, to ensure the airdrop would be executed as planned," said Canlas.
Despite all the planning, a few of the aircraft weren't able to join the formation due to maintenance and some additional complicating factors. This is unusual for a C-17 formation because the Air Mobility Command average worldwide departure reliability rate is 89.7% for the C-17 fleet.
During the 10-hour transatlantic flight, the C-17 formation rendezvoused with a mixed formation of KC-135 Stratotankers and KC-10 Extenders to conduct aerial refueling. Providing the C-17s with the fuel necessary to reach Poland and execute the mission.
"In order for us to deliver, we need other assets such as tankers to put the 'global' into rapid global mobility. Those tankers give us the ability to execute this mission straight from Pope, N.C. all the way to Poland," said Canlas.
U.S. military forces routinely train alongside allies and coalition partners sharpening their capabilities to ensure a high-readiness of forces aimed at deterring and preventing conflicts.
"Everyone sees the end product of people and equipment exiting an aircraft but they don't realize prior to this exercise months of integrated planning took place between the Air Force and the Army," said Canlas.
The first paratrooper to jump was Maj. Gen. Richard D. Clarke, 82nd Airborne Division commander. He was followed by paratroopers from his division as well as approximately 1,000 allied paratroopers.
"Not only did General Clarke jump with his Soldiers, he led from the front and was the first to jump," said Canlas. "That's setting the example and setting the expectation as a leader."
Once on the ground, the multi-national airborne task force will conduct a combat training center field exercise at the Army's Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels Training Areas. The exercise is expected to conclude June 26th.
"Our Airmen never cease to amaze me," said Canlas. "I know our Air Force is in good hands when I see the professionalism of everybody all the way from our maintainers to our mission planners to the folks who execute the mission. It's an incredible team effort and it's great to see."