Dolphins fly to New Caledonia with Hickam C-17 crew

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Cohen Young
  • Defense Media Activity - Hawaii
Airmen aboard C-17 Globemaster IIIs from Hickam AFB transported dolphins from the Navy Marine Mammals Program in San Diego, Calif., to Noumea, New Caledonia, Nov. 8 to locate and dispose of more than 200 contact mines that were leftover from World War II.

The active-duty and Reserve C-17 aircrew from Hickam AFB helped deliver the dolphins for Lagoon Minex 2009, a humanitarian project in which U.S. forces along with French, Australian and New Zealand military will work together Nov. 9 to 20 to locate and dispose of the World War II mines.

The dolphins are integral to the exercise because of their biological sonar capabilities. They are used for underwater surveillance and mine detection, location, marking and recovery.

The organizers of the exercise couldn't afford to transport the animals to New Caledonia. Assistance arrived with the cooperation of a C-17 crew from the 535th Airlift Squadron here and a Reserve C-17 crew from the 452nd Air Mobility Wing from March Air Reserve Base, Calif. Through current projects and training missions, a plan was put into action to get the dolphins moved.

"The constraints were money," said Capt. Andrew Stewart, a pilot with the 15th Operations Squadron at Hickam AFB. He is a native of Rockaway, N.J.

"When I spoke to Robert Olds from the Navy Marine Mammal Program and he told me what they were trying to do, I thought it was a worthwhile cause," Captain Stewart said. "These mines were beginning to affect New Caledonia's two main sources of industry."

According to statistics, nickel mining and the fishing industry are the two main sources of commerce in New Caledonia.

The Reserve crew took the first leg of the trip and passed the next leg onto the Hickam AFB based active-duty crew so one squadron wouldn't have to absorb the costs involved.

Twelve minefields were constructed by the Australians during World War II to prevent enemy access to the New Caledonia ports where American troops were deployed. In 1944, U.S. forces began a mine sweeping operation of the surfaced mines. More than 60 years later, the U.S., New Zealand, Australia and France forces gathered in a joint effort to help a community by eliminating the remaining mines.

The nine-person crew from Hickam AFB said they were happy to do their part in this worthwhile exercise.

"The impact is huge," Captain Stewart said. "We were able to work with many multinational agencies and watch it unfold to make an environment safer.We used the 'total force' concept to help get these four mammals to New Caledonia so they can do their job."

"It's good to see all these agencies coming together," said Brisbane Australia native Flight Lt. Samuel Gadsby, an exchange officer from the Royal Australian Air Force who is currently assigned to the 535th AS. "This was a complex task to work with all of the different agencies. We had a French liaison officer help us with some of the communication involved."

Airmen from McChord Air Force Base, Wash., will take the mammals back to San Diego at the end of the exercise.

Dolphins are not the typical cargo for a C-17.

"You have to remain dynamic and flexible and an operation like this provided that opportunity," Captain Steward said. "We went to a nonstandard airfield where procedures were different than ours and we did it with an unordinary cargo.

"We're not used to downloading cargo with minimal equipment," said Tech. Sgt. Kevin Collette, a loadmaster with the 535th AS and native of Worchester, Mass. "This tested our expertise as loadmasters when we uploaded and downloaded the dolphins. We had to maintain a certain cabin pressure for the mammals which was different from our usual setting because we wanted to make sure they were comfortable. The dolphins were well behaved and the best passengers that we've ever had."