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C-130s to the rescue

Tech. Sgts. Stephanie Durham and Ricardo Brown with the 379th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron carefully move a littered patient on to an awaiting ambulance Oct. 14. The 379th EAES treat patients throughout Southwest Asia. The ability to rapidly respond to various medical needs in the AOR gives the U.S. and coalition forces greater flexibility to preserve life in the Global War on Terror. Durham and Brown are deployed from Scott AFB, Ill.

Tech. Sgts. Stephanie Durham and Ricardo Brown with the 379th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron work to move and treat patients throughout the Southwest Asia via C-130 Hercules Oct. 14. Sergeants Durham and Brown are deployed from Scott Air Force Base, Ill. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Douglas C. Olsen)

SOUTHWEST ASIA - Col. Diane Fletcher, deployed from Scott Air Force Base, Ill. to Southwest Asia, speaks with her patient over the noise of an inflight C-130 Hercules Oct. 14. Colonel Fletcher's home is in LaGrange, Ga. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Douglas Olsen)

Col. Diane Fletcher speaks with a patient over the noise of an inflight C-130 Hercules Oct. 14 in Southwest Asia. Colonel Fletcher is deployed from Scott Air Force Base, Ill. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Douglas Olsen)

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) -- The 746th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron has a storied history, dating back to the early 1940s, and the legacy lives on through vital airlift missions and aeromedical evacuation operations throughout Southwest Asia.

"Our primary mission is providing intra-theater airlift, delivering people and supplies with our fleet of C-130 (Hercules aircraft) directly supporting ground troops throughout Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa," said Lt. Col. Joseph Sexton, commander of the 746th EAS. "At the end of the day our overall contribution to the fight is the ability to deliver supplies while keeping convoys off the roads as much as possible."

In addition to the traditional airlift mission, the 746th EAS has provided transportation for numerous military and distinguished visitors.

"Due to the threats inside Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa, there are a lot places typical operational support aircraft cannot go," Colonel Sexton said.

"We've transported both Lt. Gen. Gary North, commander of U.S. Central Command Air Forces, and Gen. John Corley, vice chief of staff of the Air Force, throughout the AOR. We even took Iraqi president Jalal Talabani to meet with President Bush when he visited Iraq," Colonel Sexton said.

The diversity of the 746th EAS mission wasn't limited to Iraq and Afghanistan operations.  It also reached down to the Horn of Africa with weekly missions, usually lasting four to six days, which put the 746th EAS in all three of CENTCOM's areas of operations during a typical flying week.

"This is something not many units do," said Colonel Sexton. "Our primary mission in (the Horn of Africa) was embassy support, such as transporting Department of State Officials. We even supported military-to-military operations in Kenya and Ethiopia." 

"In the last four months, the 746th EAS has flown 2,500 sorties, 5,500 flight hours, transported 31,000 passengers, 920 patients and carried 3,000 tons of cargo," he said. "We also flew the 379th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron on two weekly Mercy channel missions and the alpha alert missions.

"The Mercy missions go thru Iraq picking up anywhere from 20 to 40 injured or sick military personnel for treatment at better-equipped medical facilities. If the injuries are too severe to be treated in the AOR, the patient is then transported to Balad Air Base, Iraq, and loaded on a C-17 (Globemaster III) to be taken to Landstuhl Army Hospital in Germany," Colonel Sexton said.

The alpha alert mission, which can be off the ground within an hour, often times carries a Critical Care Air Transport Team, or CCATT, who handles severely injured patients. The alpha alert 746 EAS aircrew and 379 EAES crew sit ready to deploy down range at a moment's notice and pick up any military personnel who are in need of urgent care, he continued.

"The Aeromedical Evacuations are long days," said Capt. Josh Leibel, a 746th EAS pilot. "They can get close to the 16-hour maximum that the flight crew is allowed to work without rest."

However, injured warriors need the best care available as quickly as possible and that's what the 746th EAS and the 379th EAES are here to make happen, Captain Leible said.

On top of the missions the 746th EAS Airmen have traditionally done, they also have seen a couple of firsts in the past year to include the implementation of the Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS) to accomplish high altitude airdrops.

"All the flight crews were trained to use JPADS back home at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, which took a lot of time and effort to get done because the training is weather-dependent and has many other variables. Actually getting to use JPADS to do high altitudes drops for the first time in theater was a real thrill," Colonel Sexton said.

"We did one leaflet drop over Afghanistan and three over Iraq," he said. "These drops help shape the battlefield, they're like the wanted posters in the post office. The leaflets have a picture of the terrorist and a telephone number for the locals to call if they have any information that would lead to their capture.

"The largest drop was 450,000 leaflets and the other drops were between 30,000 and 200,000 leaflets," the colonel said.

In the summer of 2002, the 746th EAS, traditionally a Guard and Reserve unit, stood up in Southwest Asia. In the fall of 2006, the Reserve deactivated and the 746th EAS remained as an active-duty unit.

The 746th EAS Airmen have finished their last rotation and their mission has been handed off to the 40th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron.

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