Capt. Pat Farrell performs a preflight check of a C-17 Globemaster III July 3 at a forward operating base in Southwest Asia prior to flying an airdrop mission. Deployed from Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., Captain Farrell is assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, one of two C-17 squadrons in the area of responsibility now deploying in rotation periods similar to air and space expeditionary force deployments. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Chuck Marsh)
A High Mobility Artillery Rocket System is offloaded from a C-17 Globemaster III onto a dirt landing strip July 3 in Southwest Asia. The C-17 mission re-supplied coalition international security assistance forces in a remote region of Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Krista Staff)
Master Sgt. Allen Larson prepares the static line for an airdrop of supplies from a C-17 Globemaster III on July 3 in Southwest Asia. Sergeant Larson is an Air Force Reserve loadmaster deployed with the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Chuck Marsh)
by Tech. Sgt. Chuck Marsh
U.S. Central Command Air Forces-Forward Public Affairs
7/10/2006 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) -- 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 a squadron traveled to an area, flew 14-15 days, then returned home. About one-third of its deployment was 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 Air Base, 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 the two squadrons, the 17th Airlift Squadron from Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., and the 7th Airlift Squadron from McChord Air Force Base, 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 a stable, predictable, efficient and disciplined manner than in the past."
The change has given the air mobility division tactics folks at the Combined Air Operations Center predictability.
"Having the 816 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.
"Ultimately," said Major Wald, "if I find out I need an aircraft two days from now, I know they will be there."
The new way of doing business also has allowed the squadron commander an opportunity to structure the deployed squadron 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," said Colonel Richoux. "We have to.
"I organized the fliers into 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," he 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. I also have augmented crews (three pilots and two loadmasters). We use augmented crews on long missions, allowing time for one of the pilots and loadmasters to get out of their seat, into a bunk and get a couple hours of sleep so they can safely operate the mission," said the colonel.
According to Colonel Richoux, the change has worked. The 816 EAS has, in their first month in the theater, 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 re-supply and humanitarian civil assistance throughout the theater.
"While we mainly provide troop re-supply 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," said the colonel. "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."
He attributed much of the success to 8th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron maintainers, who retained 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 stations 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, in a study he conducted. "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 the coalition ground forces are re-supplied when needed, and the people caught in the midst of the war on terrorism are provided with assistance and hope.