OEF anniversary: History shows AMC's critical support as operation grew

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
  • Air Mobility Command Public Affairs
It was less than 30 days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when Operation Enduring Freedom began. Air Force history shows OEF officially started on Oct. 7, 2001.

According to Air Mobility Command's 2001 history, in many ways the operation constituted a continuation of the command's actions on the day of the terrorist attacks. Even before the second aircraft plowed into the Twin Towers, a KC-135 Stratotanker had launched in support of F-15 Eagles pursuing hijacked aircraft," an excerpt from the official history shows.

For the 26 days between Sept. 11 and Oct. 7, 2001, AMC forces were "highly engaged" in supporting Operation Noble Eagle -- the homeland defense operation -- while at the same time preparing for OEF operations in Afghanistan. Tanker missions, airlift missions and more were taking place and mobility Airmen in contingency response roles were deploying to bases throughout the globe.

On the day OEF began, AMC leaders streamlined command and control. "As the war on terrorism in Afghanistan began, AMC acquired positive control of all command missions," the history states.

Additionally, as the deployment of AMC personnel and assets proceeded, Lt. Gen. Ron Marcotte, then-AMC vice commander, directed that all deploying forces be on "Contingency, Exercise, Deployment," or CED, orders. This effort brought out better accountability for mobility Airmen, particularly contingency response forces assigned to Tanker-Airlift Control Elements, or TALCEs.

Days before combat operations began on Oct. 7, government officials announced a simultaneous humanitarian effort spearheaded by AMC forces in the opening days and months of the invasion of Afghanistan. President George W. Bush announced on Oct. 4, 2001, the creation of a $320 million humanitarian assistance package for the people of Afghanistan. According to the history, soon after Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced "the U.S. military has been and will be involved in various aspects of humanitarian assistance for Afghans."

Secretary Rumsfeld added delivery of aid via airdrops was under consideration and the drops received the go-ahead. Within days after the start of OEF, C-17 Globemaster III aircraft began airdropping "culturally neutral" humanitarian rations to the Afghanistan population.

C-17s used the Tri-wall Aerial Delivery System, or TRIADS, to do airdrops, a first for the Air Force. "This was the first time the U.S. military had airdropped relief aid in the region and was the first operational use of the improved TRIADS," history records show.

C-17s carried 42 of the 7-foot-tall TRIADS bundles filled with the humanitarian rations for each airdrop mission. The aircraft proved optimum for the mission at hand.

"At the drop zone, the loadmaster would slide the containers out of the back of the airplane where the slipstream virtually disintegrated the large boxes, allowing the HDRs to float to the ground," the history states. "This type of airdrop proved to be safer for those receiving the food on the ground and ideal for drops at higher altitudes."

From the start of the operation through December 2001, C-17s airdropped more than 2.4 million humanitarian rations on nearly 200 missions. In that same time in 23 Container Delivery System airdrop missions, C-17s and the Airmen who flew them airdropped 42,000 blankets and 21,000 55-pound sacks of flour using 521 CDS bundles.

In addition to the airlift and airdrop missions completed by AMC Airmen and aircraft at the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, tankers remained busy helping combat aircraft get to their targets. Those included tanker aircraft from Travis Air Force Base, Calif.

"Travis KC-10 Extenders were there to refuel the first combat aircraft to strike the Taliban," according to a 2009 historical paper by 60th Air Mobility Wing historian John M. Lacomia. "Travis' aerial refuelers passed over 22 million gallons of fuel in support of thousands of combat sorties over the Afghan theater."

From the beginning of combat and humanitarian operations in Afghanistan through today, mobility Airmen continue to meet the needs of OEF warfighters. Since the operation began, AMC airlift has moved more than 15.4 million passengers and more than 5.6 million tons of cargo worldwide, AMC statistics show. Additionally, in extending global reach for the Air Force through air refueling in the past nine years, mobility tankers have off-loaded more than 12.2 billion pounds (1.8 billion gallons) of fuel.

Mark Morgan, an AMC historian, said what mobility Airmen accomplished during the start of OEF and through today is nothing short of "legendary."

"The Air Mobility Command team has been on the leading edge of everything in OEF since it began," Mr. Morgan said. "Whether through air refueling, airdrop, airlift, aeromedical evacuation or Airmen serving in a support role, mobility Airmen have and will continue to make history every day this unique operation."