Leader Blues

Monday, February 19, 2007

TOP STORY >> C-130 drops: Saving lives

By 2ND LT. KELLY GEORGE
314th Airlift Wing Strategic Information Flight

A small group of airmen gathered in the cold Tuesday at a sign outside of the 463rd Airlift Group building at Little Rock Air Force Base to tack up the number 5,001. The sign has been up for about four months and designates the number of convoy vehicles that have been taken off dangerous roads in Iraq and replaced with much safer C-130 airlift missions. The group’s airlift mission is to vastly reduce the number of road convoys, which face the danger of improvised explosive devices that explode on highways.

Airmen from the 463rd Airlift Group carry a large part of the deployment burden due to the busy C-130 mission of its deployed squadron, the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron at Balad Air Base, Iraq. The 777th stays busy, averaging about 25 sorties a day, according to Lt. Col. Tim Anderson, who recently returned as squadron commander. “The C-130 community is being used pretty heavily,” said Anderson, but you’ll never hear folks complain.

“Our whole mission is convoy mitigation” said Anderson. “What we’re doing is impacting American lives. The (improvised explosive device) threat is one of the biggest threats to our ground troops. I don’t think people fully understand the impact we have over there.” The need for this awareness is what prompted members from the 463rd to take action in conjunction with members of the 314th Airlift Wing, creating the sign that now stands in front of the group building.

“I drive by it (the sign) every day on the way to work,” said Senior Airman Cecil Johnson, loadmaster from the 50th Airlift Squadron, who recently returned from his second deployment to Iraq. “I think back to the amount of people I’ve helped, it’s very rewarding.” “We talk to a lot of the Army (personnel),” said Senior Airman Nate Southwick, a loadmaster with the 61st Airlift Squadron. “A lot of guys cheer as soon as we’re wheels up.”

“A lot of people on the base don’t realize the true impact the squadron is making,” he said. “After every flight I calculate totals of passengers and cargo so I get to see the impact,” he added. While aircrews stay busy replacing convoys, deployed maintenance airmen face their own challenges. Senior Airman Courtney Coker, who works in nondestructive inspection testing for the 314th Airlift Wing Maintenance Squadron, is “on the other side of flight crews. We keep the planes in the air.”
Coker, whose husband is a flight engineer with the 50th AS, was recently deployed to Balad with the 332nd Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron. Two months into her four-month deployment, her husband deployed to the same location.

Keeping up with the busy maintenance schedule, Airmen Coker feels especially connected to convoy mitigation mission.
“We have to keep them (C-130s) flying to continue the missions,” she said. “Especially because my husband will be flying.”
Another 120 airmen, most of them aircrews from the 463rd AG deployed, last week to Iraq. For most, this was not the first, nor the last time they will deploy in support of the C-130 convoy mitigation mission. Many aircrews are in the one-to-one dwell, meaning that airmen spend equal time deployed and at home stations.