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NEWS | June 16, 2015

17th Airlift Squadron; A look back:17th AS revolutionizes C-17 deployed operations

By Tech. Sgt. Chuck Marsh U.S. Central Command Air Forces Forward PA

Editor's Note: As the 437th Airlift Wing gears up to inactivate the 17th Airlift Squadron, we hope you enjoy the walk down memory lane with us as we reprint stories that highlight the achievements of the Air Force's first operational C-17 squadron. This week's article was first printed in the July 14, 2006 edition of the Airlift Dispatch.

In a break from the past, C-17 Globemaster IIIs and Airmen supporting the aircraft are deploying to the theaters and operating from one location for an entire air and space expeditionary force rotation.

Previously crews flew missions for two or three weeks, then returned home. About one-third of this time was spent traveling to and from the operating location.

Prior to June, C-17 deployments varied according to combat demand, subjecting crews to an unrelenting operations tempo. In an effort to slow that tempo, ongoing since 9/11, and increase aircrew efficiency and aircraft utilization rates, Air Mobility Command leaders implemented a two-expeditionary-airlift-squadron initiative for C-17 squadrons. One squadron, the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, is operating from a forward deployed location in Southwest Asia, and the other, the 817th EAS, is based at Incirlik AB, Turkey.

"This way of operating gives both the combatant commander as well as the aircrews the continuity needed to improve reliability and efficiency. AIrcrews get accustomed to the combat environment and users get accustomed to the crew and squadron leadership. It's a win for everyone," said Lt. Col. Lenny Richoux, 816 EAS commander.

"Air Mobility Command leadership decided to take two squadrons, the 17th Airlift Squadron from Charleston AFB, S.C., and the 7th Airlift Squadron from McChord AFB, Wash., and deploy them under the 385th Expeditionary Airlift Group," said Colonel Richoux, the Charleston-based squadron commander. "So, now we have two full squadrons in theater operating at a more stable, predictable, efficient and disciplined manner than in the past."

The change has given the air mobility division tactics personnel at the Combined Air Operations Center predictability.

"Having the 816th EAS on regular AEF rotations helps us," said Maj. Brian Wald, an air mobility division tactics chief deployed from Scott AFB, Ill. "They have a full-time person who handles tactical-level plans, leaving us to focus on the operational-level plans. Previously we handled both. Also, in previous rotations, the C-17 squadron had only one qualified crew and if it was in crew rest, we had to take care of any changes that may have come up. This isn't the case anymore. If I find out I need an aircraft two day from now, I know they will be here."

The new way of doing business also has allowed squadron commanders the opportunity to structure their deployed squadrons more efficiently.

"When we stood up this operation,  it allowed me to arrange it in a way where we could predictably fly about a dozen C-17s every day," Colonel Richoux said. "We have to."

"I organized the fliers in to hard crews - a set crew of two pilots and one loadmaster who always fly together, which is not the way airlift has been done in the past," Colonel Richoux said. "Airlift used to be done with 'pools' of pilots and loadmasters pulled together as a mission came up. I did not want to do that. I wanted my officers to lead their aircrew for the entire deployment. Augmented crews - three pilots and two loadmasters are used on long missions," Colonel Richoux said.

The change has worked, according to Colonel Richoux. In their first month in theater, the 816 EAS has flown 854 sorties and moved roughly 23 million pounds of cargo and 23,530 passengers. The squadron also played a key part in the airdrop of nearly 813,000 pounds of troop resupply and humanitarian civic assistance throughout the theater.

"While we mainly provide troop resupply to coalition forces, we also deliver humanitarian aid for the local communities surrounding that combat zone," said Colonel Richoux. "And it's done with airlift, C-17s and C-130 (Hercules)."

Aircraft are loaded quickly and operators are flexible enough to adjust where a load is going even while in flight.

"We can also get in there under (the) cover of darkness so the bad guys can't see us," Colonel Richoux said. "We can get in there low; we can get in and out of there fast, and we can deliver the load with precision, within 25 yards of where it is supposed to go."

Much of the squadron's success is attributed to the 8th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron maintainers, who maintained a 95.2 percent aircraft reliability rate for June.

"We are literally coming together, saving lives and delivering hope to fledgling democracies," said Colonel Richoux. "We are all proud to be a part of it."

Not only is the mission rewarding to the deployed members, but it benefits those at home station who, thanks to this new approach, now have more time to focus on issues the operations tempo normally puts on the back burner.

"Since the two EAS construct achieved initial operating capability June 1, current operations at Charleston Air Force Base has experienced a 50 percent reduction in required crews," said Lt. Col. Keith Parnell, 816 EAS director of operations. "With a significantly lower aircrew and aircraft tasking system rate, squadrons at home station are offered the opportunity to maintain currency, improve proficiency, complete upgrades, work on professional military education and take leave."

This evolution of C-17 deployments has transformed with the adaptation of the AEF cycle. According to Colonel Richoux, the stand-up of two rotational squadrons has and will continue to ensure coalition ground forces are resupplied when needed, and the noncombatants caught in the midst of the war on terrorism are provided with assistance and hope.