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C-17 crews describe paratroop drop

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- U.S. Army paratroopers prepare to board a C-17 Globemaster III. Nearly 1,000 "Sky Soldiers" of the 173rd Airborne Brigade recently parachuted from C-17s into the Kurdish-controlled area of northern Iraq. This was the first combat insertion of paratroopers using a C-17. U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Controllers along with an Air Force Contingency Response Group were also part of the troop movement in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Stephen Faulisi)

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- U.S. Army paratroopers prepare to board a C-17 Globemaster III. Nearly 1,000 "Sky Soldiers" of the 173rd Airborne Brigade recently parachuted from C-17s into the Kurdish-controlled area of northern Iraq. This was the first combat insertion of paratroopers using a C-17. U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Controllers along with an Air Force Contingency Response Group were also part of the troop movement in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Stephen Faulisi)

WASHINGTON -- Training. Teamwork. Focus. Pride.

That is how the commander of the largest airborne mission since 1990's Operation Just Cause sums up the aerial delivery of 1,000 members of the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade into northern Iraq on March 26.

It was the first time a C-17 Globemaster III had inserted paratroops into a combat situation.

"There's a huge amount of pride when you're involved in an operation like this," said Col. Bob Allardice, commander of the 62nd Airlift Wing at McChord Air Force Base, Wash. "We (trained) for years with the Army to be able to project power anywhere in the world. To finally get the opportunity to execute that kind of mission is a big thrill."

According to Allardice, 15 C-17s flew in formation over a distance roughly the equivalent of Seattle to St. Louis in order to deliver the "Sky Soldiers" to an area north of Baghdad. The mission lasted about nine hours.

Master Sgt. Chris Dockery, a loadmaster in McChord's 7th Airlift Squadron, said that while aircrews practice airdrops constantly, this was no ordinary mission.

"It was special," he said. "It was the first time we'd done something of this size. It was quite a feeling to see all that stuff exit the aircraft, then close the doors and escape out of there.

"We were prepared for anything that could happen," Dockery said. "We were concentrating on making sure we got the stuff to the right place, on time, so the (soldiers) would be able to accomplish their mission."

According to Allardice, even though the drop itself happens very quickly, it is heart pounding nonetheless.

"Once you get into the area, people really get focused," he said. "When the doors open, you can hear the roar of the troops -- there are 100 airborne troopers standing up, stomping and yelling, getting psyched up. Then they run out the back of the jet."

Lead pilot Lt. Col. Shane Hershman, also in the 7th AS, described the mission as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. "It was the largest airdrop since Panama, and it was quite an honor to lead that formation."

The formation was a team effort of crews, both active duty and Reserve, from both McChord and Charleston AFB, S.C.

"To see everything come together was quite rewarding," Hershman said.

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