Leader Blues

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

TOP STORY >> Air base heading to rodeo with high hopes

By GARRICK FELDMAN
Leader editor-in-chief

Little Rock Air Force Base, which has the largest C-130 fleet in the world, is sending four planes and some 140 airmen to the air rodeo competition at McChord Air Force Base in Washington state.

These are the men and women who fly C-130s, deliver military personnel and supplies around the world on short notice, and they will compete for the title of best airlifters in the world.

Air Mobility Command’s premier mobility competition will take place Saturday through Friday, July 24.

Col. Gregory S. Otey, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base, and Col. Charles K. Hyde, commander of the 314th Airlift Wing, will lead their teams to McChord on Friday.

Among those going on the trip are Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams, former Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim, Larry Bernake of Arkansas Federal Credit Union and Larry Wilson of First Arkansas Bank and Trust.

The three surviving members of the original nine Doolittle Raiders, who were the first to bomb a Japanese island during the Second World War, will be the special guests of Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, the commander of Air Mobility Command.

The air rodeo, held every two years, tests the mobility of C-130 crews. The competition features more than 40 aircraft participating in airdrops, aerial refueling and other aerial events.

Additional events will showcase the wide-ranging capabilities of military security forces and aerial port, maintenance and aeromedical-evacuation personnel.

More than 100 teams and 2,500 people from the Air Force, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard, as well as allies from 25 nations, are expected to participate.

The last biennial competition took place in July 2007 at McChord AFB.

“The return on investment from rodeo is huge because it tests, improves and impacts the entire worldwide mobility machine,” Otey said. “This one week allows us to measure our combat airlift skills against the best of the best mobility aircrews from around the world.

“Airlift rodeo allows all of us to share tactics, techniques and procedures and increases the velocity and precision of combat airlift. That increase in efficiency in combat airlift velocity and precision directly affects our war-fighters on the front lines,” Otey said.

Hyde, who is going to his first rodeo, is also enthusiastic about the upcoming competition. He said the rodeo “tests the whole system” of air mobility. “It challenges everybody to be better and work together better. We learn from each other.”

Hyde’s grandfather built C-130s in the 1960s at the Lockheed assembly plant in Marietta, Ga., where he grew up. He said his grandfather probably helped build many of the planes at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Hyde is a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Otey, a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, was a weapons officer at the C-130 Weapons School at the air base from 1995 through 1997.

Hyde, who is an Air Force Academy graduate, trained here and was a flight instructor in 1992.

The 314th Airlift Wing trains C-130 crews for the Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and several allied nations. The wing is part of the Education and Training Command.

The 19th Airlift Wing is the premier combat airlift unit and reports to Air Mobility Command.

“Rodeo showcases AMC’s best of the best and allows us to train and learn through spirited competition,” said Maj. Gen. Brooks Bash, AMC director of operations and Rodeo 2009 commander.

“Not only does this world-class competition train mobility forces for the fight, it provides a forum for airmen and our international partners to share the best of tactics and techniques,” Brooks added.

According to the Air Force, an important long-term benefit of this event is increased cooperation between air mobility forces among participating nations. Collectively, the ultimate goal of the competition is to develop and improve techniques and procedures that enhance air mobility operations.

According to AMC officials, the command provides the nation global mobility combined with rapid response.

Air Mobility Command not only plays a crucial role in Iraq and Afghanistan through its airlift, tanker and aeromedical-evacuation capabilities but also provides humanitarian support around the world. Its extensive daily flying operations average an aircraft takeoff every 90 seconds.

Capt. Allison Stephens of Little Rock Air Force Base public affairs contributed to this report.