Air mobility squadron keeps C-17s ready for fight

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Andrew Park
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Winning the fight against an adversary requires much more than just dropping bombs on targets and taking out key leaders. It requires coordinating the precise movement of necessary supplies to arrive at the right location at the right time; which is why logistics plays such an important role in the war-fighting effort.

Luckily, within the Air Force alone, Air Mobility Command has many aircraft at its disposal to perform logistical missions, but one aircraft in particular proves to be valuable not only for its capacity but also for the speed at which it gets supplies downrange: the C-17 Globemaster III.

C-17s are used frequently in the U.S. Air Force Central Command area of responsibility to get everything from clothing to bombs to a variety of locations around the region.

As a 386th Air Expeditionary Wing tenant unit, the 5th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron flies its Globemasters an average of 2,500 sorties a year from the wing’s flightline. These sorties are responsible for moving 180,000 personnel and 80,000 tons of cargo, said Capt. John Goodwin, 5th EAMS Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge.

The 5th EAMS is a geographically separated unit that falls under the 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. They perform their mission not only from the flightline here, but also from a second location.

The squadron consists of more than 60 maintenance personnel who are responsible for ensuring their C-17s remain safe and operational to continue flying these important sorties throughout the AOR. They also fly the same amount of sorties as other expeditionary air mobility squadrons, but with nearly half the typical crew size, Goodwin said.

Since it is such a small crew, the few crew chiefs in the squadron rely on the help of specialists such as electricians and communication-navigation experts to help out with inspections, explained Staff Sgt. Derek Barrett, a 5th EAMS aircraft electrical and environment systems technician.

“If a jet comes down with a specific career field problem like electrical work, we’ll go out there and manage those problems,” Barrett said.

And there are a lot of these inspections. The process of degrading adversaries in Iraq and Afghanistan requires a steady movement of goods to various locations, which means these C-17s and others perform several sorties on a regular basis.

“We could have upwards of eight to 10 sorties or airlift operations for that day that can be coming in or leaving,” Goodwin said. “We could also be doing transient (aircraft), which don’t belong to us but they may be coming into this location for supplies. If anything goes wrong, we provide maintenance for those units that may need it.”

Many of these sorties require landing in austere environments which can cause wear and tear on the aircraft, especially the tires, which usually return with gashes, gouges and other forms of damage, Goodwin said.

Maintaining aircraft that are used at such a high operational tempo can itself be challenging, but coordinating between two different locations can bring another facet of difficulty to managing the spread-out squadron.

“The biggest challenge for me is to make sure that we’re in touch with both locations,” Goodwin said. “We do service C-5 (Galaxies) at one base and C-17s at another, so the diversity in what aircraft we’re servicing can also play a part.”

To combat this challenge, Goodwin said the squadron focuses on maintaining good communication to ensure everyone is on the same page and performing their maintenance safely, which is important as it means the aircraft can fly its mission effectively to get the necessary supplies downrange. This also serves as a point of pride for the 5th EAMS maintainers whose job it is to ensure the aircraft keeps flying these important missions.

“As we see the cargo go out and the passengers, I know that the work that we do will make a direct impact to missions in Iraq and all over the world,” Barrett said.