379th AEW supports flood relief operations in Ethiopia

  • Published
  • By Maj. Ann P. Knabe
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
For Airman 1st Class Daniel Stone, it was an amazing adventure.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be flying into the heart of Africa, helping flood victims," said the loadmaster assigned to the 746th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron here. "It's something I'll never forget."

Deployed to the desert for the first time, the loadmaster from the 39th Airlift Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, put his 1.5 years of loadmaster training to the test in mid November when he and a C-130 Hercules aircrew were called to help airlift flood relief supplies to Gode, Ethiopia.

Airman Stone was part of a six-person aircrew tasked to fly missions in support of Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa. Led by Capt. David Bruton, the aircraft commander, the crew left Southwest Asia for several days of flying in Africa. Missions in Africa originate from the CJTF-HOA headquarters at Camp Lemonaire in Djibouti. Most of the time they fly routine channel missions and deliver supplies to Kenya, Ethiopia and other countries.

But when heavy rain and flooding hit Ethiopia last week, the C-130's mission took on even greater significance. The 746th EAS crew was tasked as the first aircraft responders when the roads were too washed out for vehicles to drive.

"In the first day alone we delivered 49,000 pounds of supplies and food to Gode," said 1st Lt. Adam Betley, a 746th EAS co-pilot. "We loaded-up at Dire Dawa twice that first day, making two trips to the flooded areas. Once on the ground, we moved quickly, using combat off-loads to expedite the process."

Lieutenant Betley said the combat off-loads use the "the table cloth technique" to remove the pallets from the C-130, likening the offload to someone pulling a tablecloth off a table with dishes still remaining in place.

"Once we hit the ground, we keep things moving," he said. "To facilitate a speedy combat offload, we keep the engines running, open the back ramp of the aircraft, prepare the pallets for release, power up and release the brakes. The combination of inertia and momentum makes the pallets slide off the back of the aircraft in seconds, and we are soon on our way."

The combat offloads allowed the crew to spend less than 15 minutes total on the ground, just enough time to offload supplies and pick up empty pallets. They moved 98.9 tons in four days on 15 different sorties. But it wasn't only aircrew that supported the effort.

"This was the greatest teamwork I've ever encountered in the Air Force," said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Slaughter, a flight engineer with more than 10 years service. "We had the cops and maintainers joining in to help the effort. Everyone pitched in."

As a 379th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron fly-away security team, Staff Sergeants Rodger Jackson and Shawn Belles and Senior Airman Christopher Saydeh, stepped out beyond their normal assigned duties to assist with the humanitarian efforts.

"We knew every second counted and people's lives were at stake, so we did whatever we could do to help," Airman Saydeh said.

The security forces specialists normally focus on ensuring the plane, people and cargo are secure. But on this trip they also carried water jugs, tarps, medical supplies and food, and helped prepare the aircraft for the emergency missions.

When the crew stayed overnight at Addis Ababa, the FAS team slept on the plane, protecting the Air Force asset and cargo as temperatures dipped below 50 F.

Loadmaster Tech. Sgt. James Cope said combat offloads, like the ones done in Gode for flood relief, are harsh on the plane.

"Our crew chiefs spent hours maintaining the aircraft. They were fixing engines, changing the nose wheel tire and main tires, and fixing the landing gear brakes," said Sergeant Jackson.

"Everyone just came together to make sure the mission got done as expeditiously as possible."

"We had security forces assisting chiefs cleaning the flaps and pilots cleaning cargo seats and windows," said Sergeant Slaughter. "Wherever you looked, people were making it happen. It was unity at its best."

In total, the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Airmen would fly eight of the nine days they were supporting CJTF-HOA. Their efforts didn't go unnoticed by senior leadership.

"The crew from the 746th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron amazed me with their professionalism and responsiveness," said Col. Marc Luiken, CJTF-HOA Air Component Coordination Element. "The Ethiopia humanitarian relief mission to Gode was a great example of the flexibility and agility airpower brings to CJTF-HOA."