Mobility Airmen ready and responsive anytime, anywhere

  • Published
  • By Maj. Michael Meridith
  • 18th Air Force

As the death of former South African president Nelson Mandela drew the world's attention to the African continent, mobility Airmen raced against the clock to ensure President Obama's security, communications, and mission support was in place.

Within days those would become part of an international effort to help end violence in the Central African Republic.

Minutes after the international press announced Mandela's death on Dec. 5, planners at the 18th Air Force and the 618th Air and Space Operations Center, Tanker Airlift Control Center, Air Mobility Command's operational warfighting arm, began working to support anticipated Presidential travel to South Africa. Linking up with their counterparts at U.S. Transportation Command and Air Forces Africa, 18th Air Force planners immediately began the complex effort of orchestrating the movement -- and then things got complicated.

An initial deadline of Dec. 11 quickly shifted to Dec. 10, leaving the team with only about 60 hours to move thousands of tons of equipment halfway across the globe in advance of the President's arrival. Capitalizing on lessons learned from earlier Presidential trips to Africa, the planners crafted a sophisticated network of Airmen and infrastructure at overseas locations in Puerto Rico, the Indian Ocean, Africa, and Europe to support the 24 airlift aircraft, that included 23 C-17 Globemaster IIIs and a C-5 Galaxy. In addition, the lack of fuel availability over vast distances and in Africa mandated the support of four KC-135 Stratotankers and 12 KC-10 Extenders.

Around the same time, Defense Secretary Hagel announced the U.S. would support French and African peacekeeping efforts in the Central African Republic, or C.A.R., specifically the airlift of Burundi troops to the C.A.R.

"Our ability to accomplish the short-notice planning to support the Burundian deployment without losing focus on the execution and branch planning for the President's travel demonstrates the dedication and agility of the 18 Air Force/618th team," said Col. Kurt Meidel, the 18th Air Force's Director of Operations.

Within days of the announcement, as the presidential support operation began to switch gears to the redeployment of personnel and equipment, the 18th Air Force's air operations center and the 618th Air and Space Operations Center, Tanker Airlift Control Center, had already coordinated two C-17 aircraft to transport more than 800 Burundi peacekeepers and equipment from Uganda to the C.A.R., where they were greeted by cheering crowds.

"The scale of the rapid support of a Presidential movement into an auster location with only 60 hours to execution was impressive," said Maj. Gen. Barbara Faulkenberry, the 18th Air Force vice commander. "It was a testament to the phenomenal planning and coordination that is simply a fact of how we do business."

Simultaneous execution and quick pivoting is nothing new for mobility Airmen. In 2011, Air Mobility Command forces successfully responded to the near-simultaneous demands of humanitarian relief to Japan while supporting combat operations in Libya. In the case of the Africa missions, the nimbleness of the enterprise built not only on support to past presidential missions, but a foundation of continued engagement on the continent.

Since 2011, the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center's 818th Mobility Support Advisory Squadron has conducted engagements and training with African partner nations where air mobility operational support is either non-existent or insufficient. The squadron is a tailorable, expeditionary organization whose members have expertise in command and control, air operations, aerial port operations, and aircraft maintenance. Additionally, since December 2012, the 818 MSAS has conducted three engagements training their counterparts in the Burundi military in cargo preparation and load planning.

"It was great working alongside the Burundi Air Force," said Capt. Louis Crooms, the 818 MSAS senior air advisor, who noted that the Burundis his team trained had since assisted in an African Union mission to Somalia. "It was great to know they were able to put the skills we taught to use. In fact, I recently received an email from one of my counterparts saying that all people we trained with were using those same skills for the Central African Republic mission. He thanked us and asked when we we're going back. To me, that's the mark of success for our efforts ... Africans helping Africans".

Although operations in Africa continue, AMC planners continue to look "around the corner" in anticipation of new requirements, ensuring the flexibility and readiness that is the hallmark of mobility Airmen.

"As mobility Airmen, our charge is to be ready to respond anywhere on the globe where we're needed," Faulkenberry said. "Thanks to the expertise of our planners and our continuing efforts to build the capacity of our partner nations, we were able to very quickly answer America's call and support the international partnership seeking to stop the sectarian violence and restore security in the Central African Republic."