By Army Pvt. Cody A. Thompson
Special to American Forces Press Service
April 27, 2009 - Using a fleet of specialized aircraft, members of the 53rd Movement Control Battalion ensure that mail, equipment, passengers and supplies make it to their destinations across Afghanistan. The 53rd MCB specializes in scheduling, coordinating and executing flights and can move their numerous airplanes on short notice to most forward and contingency operating bases in Afghanistan.
The battalion is composed of active duty and reserve airmen from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., and Dover Air Force Base, Del. Contractors with military experience fly the unit's airplanes, which have short-runway takeoff capabilities and are easier to land in smaller spaces than most aircraft.
"Our No. 1 mission is delivering mail to forward operating bases in Afghanistan," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Corydon L. Thomas, a flight operations specialist with the 53rd MCB, deployed from Dover.
In addition to mail, the unit transports ammunition, medical supplies, passengers, food, water and parts for disabled aircraft.
The 53rd MCB can reach more locations more quickly than the passenger terminal's aircraft, Thomas said, and its aircraft can land on anything from a large runway to a small dirt strip, thus increasing its travel and transportation effectiveness. This, Thomas added, helps the unit to create flights from scratch for passenger transport.
"We're a logistics enabler that creates flights and moves equipment, but 90 percent of our airdrops are water," Thomas said.
The battalion operates three types of aircraft: the small Casa 212, the medium Metro C-26 and the large Casa 235.
The Casa 212 can carry about eight passengers and primarily is used for supply drops. The Metro C-26 primarily is used as a high flying passenger plane, and the Casa 235 can carry entire pallets, as well as seating for up to 17 passengers. It can also carry twice as much weight as the Casa 212, and has a crew of three.
Within 30 minutes, Thomas said, an entire fleet of the battalion's aircraft can be unloaded, fueled, loaded and sent to their destination.
The process for getting an aircraft part where it's needed begins with an e-mail from the requesting organization. The 53rd MCB servicemembers immediately start checking their inventories and the availability of others, trying to find the piece of equipment needed. Once the equipment is located, they immediately start trying to schedule the supplies on the first available flight.
"We're precise down to the smallest detail," Thomas said.
During supply drops, the aircraft flies low enough to drop multiple pallets to the forces waiting to secure them below. From start to finish, the battalion is able to locate, load, take off and deliver equipment from three to 24 hours after the initial e-mail is sent.
"Nine times out of 10, we find a way to move it," Thomas said. "If, for some odd reason, the planes are already departed or our mission is full, we have other means of getting parts out."
When that happens, Air Force Maj. Reynaldo Gonzalez, 53rd MCB commander, said, they look at other airframes, such as the C-130. "We manage the Baltimore Channel at our office," he said, "and other options available to us are other aircraft that originate in Bagram or are coming to Bagram."
The Baltimore Channel is set up to fly cargo between Bagram Airfield, Sharana, Salerno and Jalalabad. "We manage it out of this office, and it's used to move cargo specifically to those three locations," Gonzalez said. If a flight is deemed important enough, the MCB will use the Baltimore Channel to reroute a C-130 to the location of priority.
Thomas noted the importance of the 53rd MCB's mission of supplying troops across Afghanistan with essential aircraft parts, life-sustaining material and ammunition.
"What we do here is important, because we save lives," he said.
(Army Pvt. Cody A. Thompson serves with the 40th Public Affairs Detachment.)