7/28/2006 - CHARLESTON AFB, S.C. –
It takes a team ... simply put. May 22, a group of 10 members of the 17th Airlift Squadron boarded a C-17 to stand up the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron. We landed in
Southwest Asia and began writing the first chapter of a historic airlift doctrinal change: the "Two Expeditionary Airlift Squadron Concept." Getting to that day took months of detailed planning and a base-wide effort. Looking back on how we got here is a story I will never forget.
Although I have deployed with Air Mobility Command squadrons three other times, I knew this one would be different. I also knew that there was a lot that I did not know. So, we invited every possible base agency to the 17th. I was amazed at the response -- personnel from the medical group, support group, operations group and maintenance group all came, knowing we needed them. They presented us with piles of checklists, timelines and requirements. It was intimidating.
At that time, C-17 aircrews had been deploying to Southwest Asia for three weeks at a time, traveling to the theater as passengers on KC-135s. Upon return from theater, they received two to three days rest, and went back out again for three more weeks. I knew that deploying my squadron for an entire air expeditionary force cycle would require them to complete all of their flying currency for the entire deployment period. My director of operations, Lt. Col. Casey Parnell, began scheduling dozens of simulators, check rides, flight physicals, immunizations and 9mm qualification classes. All of this on top of the myriad of requirements needed to deploy on CED orders ... something flyers had not usually done in the past.
While this deployment was new for a C-17 squadron, the 17th is accustomed to being first among C-17 squadrons: the first operational C-17 squadron, first to deploy in support of the efforts in Bosnia and Kosovo and first to deploy in support of OEF. We were ready to lead the way again.
While the squadron prepared itself to deploy, we also focused on our families. You haven't lived until you've turned your squadron into a Mexican restaurant for a night or invited 170 of your closest friends to your house for a pool party. But, that's what it takes. Without our families and friends, we couldn't get the mission done. We wouldn't have the support base.
When the day came to process through the deployment line, we were ready, but anxious. All of the detailed planning paid off as we exited the mobility processing line with zero discrepancies ... not a small accomplishment. Again, it took a team.
May 29, my loadmaster superintendent, Senior Master Sgt. Bob Austin, my first sergeant, Master Sgt. Ken Mast, and I stood at the bottom of the stairs of an L-1011. I was the proudest commander on the face of the planet as my squadron stepped off the plane, combat ready, ready to "save lives and deliver hope" to two fledgling democracies in Southwest Asia -- Iraq and Afghanistan. After two days of rest, in tents, with howling winds and blowing sand, they flew their first mission May 31, one day earlier than planned.
Now, with the deployment half-way completed, they have proven themselves to be heroes. From May 31 until July 26, they flew 1,920 sorties and 3,215 hours and moved 50 million pounds of cargo, 13,048 pallets and 50,054 passengers. The 816th has flown several missions airdropping combat re-supply equipment to troops in contact with the enemy.
We have carried numerous wounded heroes to the safety of military hospitals. Some of our distinguished passengers have included the Iraqi Prime Minister, the speaker of the house, the secretary of defense, and the commander of U.S. Central Command. Our operation runs 24/7 as we launch and recover eleven C-17s every day.
It's amazing ... and every single man and woman at Charleston AFB has had a hand in the success of the 17 AS's deployment. It took a team!