SOUTHWEST ASIA –
The imposing C-17 Globemaster III moved through the darkness during a longer trip than is typical at the Rock, the busiest aerial port in the area of responsibility. The flight was headed to Afghanistan – another example of the steady and enduring requirements of Operation Freedom Sentinel.
“The main priority of this mission was the transport of deployers -- civilians and military alike,” said pilot 1st Lt. Scott Szalejko. “In this specific mission, most of the passengers were deploying to a base there, or returning to a well-deserved rest and recovery. Flying, in general, may seem monotonous to most people, but flying anywhere there is an increased threat requires the crew to ensure all the extra precautions are taken, from both the pilot and loadmaster sides.”
Freedom Sentinel airlift missions are much longer flights than those to Iraq. Flight time spans about 3 1/2 hours. And crews may make up to four or five stops in that country while they shuttle cargo and passengers, said Maj. Virgil Steele, commander of the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, Det. 1.
“A C-17 can hold 18 pallets of cargo,” Steele said. “We handle intratheater airlift missions and, more specifically, theater direct delivery.”
Scores of passengers sat in the Globemaster’s cavernous cargo bay Sept. 30 – along with about 31 tons of cargo. The 816 EAS flies the C-17 missions from the Rock from such stateside locations as Travis AFB, Calif., Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., JB Dix-McGuire-Lakehurst and JB Charleston, S.C., and made stops at multiple locations in Afghanistan. Despite its size, the C-17 can land on airstrips as short as 3,500 feet. That kind of reliability also required prompt and precise work on the part of the aircrew.
“If we don’t perform our duties correctly and in a timely manner, those deployers, potentially, won’t reach their destination on time, which could mean their respective units could be undermanned until they arrived,” Szalejko said. “When the main priority of the mission is the transport of passengers, the objective of the crew is to quickly and safely get those people to where they are needed.”
Steele said the crews respond to varying demands from locations throughout the theater.
“There’s an ebb and flow with the user requirements,” he said.
Those “user requirements” include taskings from the Army and from the Tanker Airlift Control Center located at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. While more cargo and passengers are being moved in and out of Iraq, the missions to Afghanistan still involve as much urgency. Steele illustrated that the mission demand is still steady from Afghanistan, noting that’s roughly a third of the 816th’s missions support Freedom Sentinel.