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NEWS | July 8, 2008

Airlift squadron delivers crucial supplies to war fighters

By Senior Airman Tong Duong 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

The aircraft commander plants her C-17 down firmly, reversing the four turbine engines and applying the brakes hard to compensate for the short runway. A cloud of red clay dirt and pebbles kicks up into a rooster tail and trails the jet down the austere air strip of a forward operating base in Afghanistan.

The 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron deployed here since May, flies a multitude of missions throughout the theater.

The airlift squadron does everything: flights for distinguished visitors, troop movement, semi-prepared runway operations or airdrop of supplies in Afghanistan and other locations, said Capt. Joe Monaco, an 816th pilot.

Deploying a large number of people from one squadron has proven extremely beneficial to the 145-person unit from the 14th Airlift Squadron, Charleston AFB, S.C.

"Deploying the entire unit together for four months, is better for morale," Captain Monaco said. "We all know each other and our leadership, and that also allows us to get more done."

In the past, intra-theater airlift missions were flown from several staging bases at Ramstein, Germany; Incirlik, Turkey; Manas, Kyrgyzstan and here, Captain Monaco said. Ground members would leave on temporary duty for up to four months at a time to man those stages, while flyers would be on two week TDYs. The flight to the staging base would take crews two to three days. From there, they flew for a week in theater, then another two to three days to get back. But now, the cargo is already here. It's just moved to where it needs to go in the theater.

Since the beginning of May, the 816 EAS has flown more than 1,000 sorties, delivered more than 39,000 pounds of cargo and transported more than 31,000 passengers.

"When you look at the number of sorties and the amount of cargo we've carried, we will be doing the equivalent of two years of flying in our four months here," Captain Monaco said.

While there are some difficulties getting aircraft as large as the C-17 into some airfields, the aircraft's ability to move a large amount of supplies or equipment makes it a valuable asset throughout the area of responsibility, said Lt. Col. Norman Czubaj, 816 EAS commander.

"The aircraft's capability for huge lifts as well as long legs allows us to reach out and touch anything we need to and do multiple drops if needed," Colonel Czubaj said. "We can put a lot of stuff on the ground."

The 816th has dropped more than 400 container delivery system bundles, weighing in excess of half a million pounds of supplies in 45 days, Captain Monaco said. The container delivery system contains supplies for warfighters, such as water, food and ammunition for troops on the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While pilots of the squadron have flown many different missions since their arrival here, some have recently experienced their first 'dirt assault' landing.

"We did a semi-prepared runway landing onto an austere field in Afghanistan a week ago, which was a first for me," said Capt. Avery Schutt, an 816 EAS C-17 pilot. "We follow different procedures than when going into a prepared surface. The [dirt strips] are harder to pick up [from the air]."

The shorter length and loose gravel also pose an issue that requires pilots to study and prepare for runways, "there is not much leeway," Captain Schutt, a pilot with five years experience said.

Capt. Kenny Engleson, an instructor pilot on the mission, says that although he enjoys instructing his peers, the missions he flies delivering much needed supplies to service members downrange are even more rewarding.

"I've done seven combat airdrops this deployment, and to take cargo to a forward operating base with no other way of getting supplies, is an awesome responsibility," the captain with five dirt-landings said. "We're the biggest airplane that can airdrop lumber, concertina wire, water, ammo or food. To be the squadron that gets to do that is gratifying at the end of the day."

The 816 EAS' accomplishments can be measured by the number of pallets and tonnage of cargo delivered and airdropped, the number of troops moved in and out of AOR, Captain Engleson said.

"We know we're accomplishing the mission and that we're on the frontline as much as an airlift mobility asset can be," he said. "We also know this is game time. We work hard back home so we can come out here and do it right."