By Air Force Staff Sgt. April Bachler
139th Airlift Wing
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (6/13/11) – Whether it is food, water, ammunition, medical supplies, machine parts, or simply mail from home, to get cargo across Afghanistan it must first go through Bagram Air Base, and that cargo is most likely airlifted by Air National Guard members.
Missouri Air Guard members here recently announced that the pace of recent C-130 Hercules airlift in Afghanistan top any overseas contingency operations they ever experienced.
"It's what we're doing as far as the pace, the missions and the actual work load," said Air Force Lt. Col. David Halter, commander of the 180th Airlift Squadron, 139th Airlift Wing at Rosecrans Air Guard Base here.
Bagram's airlift operations show no sign of slowing down, he said.
Halter should know. He spent two deployments serving as commander for the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron.
The Air Guard-led, total Air Force squadron, notably known as the "Weasels," fly missions around the clock to provide the bulk of C-130 airlift at Bagram.
Halter explained that the Missouri Air Guard's recent deployment was the busiest he ever experienced.
The National Guard's C-130 airlift wings and aircraft take turns leading the airlift operation, through the Air Expeditionary Force cycle. The 139th Airlift Wing joined with the Kentucky Air Guard as well as active duty and Reserve Airmen to form one squadron.
Not only has the paced increased. Halter said the number of airfields and landing zones as well as the number of airdrops "greatly expanded."
Setting the bar
The squadron's recent 6,722 sorties from Bagram, they believe, exceed any accomplished there in four-month's time.
In as little as one-month, last fall, expeditionary squadron Airmen delivered nearly 1.9 million pounds of supplies through 99 air drops.
"As near as we can figure out, that's probably a record for the 774th," said Halter.
In addition, they airlifted more than 87,000 passengers, aeromedical patients and distinguished visitors from September to December, as well as offloaded more than 25,000 tons of supplies.
When it came down to the nuts and bolts of those airlifts, it also took tools and technicians to keep the C-130s constantly in the air.
The Air Guard's maintainers are operating at Bagram for a maddening pace on the flight line too, said Halter.
They boast mission capability rates reaching 99 percent.
"That's extremely high," said Halter. "One of the reasons is that our Air Guard maintenance folks have a vast amount of experience in keeping those airplanes up to speed and running."
A risky mission
Providing such record airlifts are commendable, but add in austere flying and living, 24-hour operations and the ever-present enemy threat, and their service reaches beyond.
"The environment is extremely dangerous because it's fast paced in a high traffic area with fighter and cargo aircraft conducting blackout operations," said Air Force Col. Ralph C. Schwader, deputy commander of the 139th Operations Group.
Schwader returned from his Bagram this year, and it was an experience like no other.
He flew with poor visibility, due to dusty, high winds in the mountains. He landed at unimproved, small airstrips using night vision goggles. During air drops, he had no aviation aids other than what was on board his aircraft.
The missions include extensive, complex landings and airdrops, he said.
Halter described it as navigating through mountainous terrain and into the desert, from a dark, busy flight line into an "extremely high-intensity," threatening environment.
"The [air] drops … resupply food and ammo to our ground troops safely, because of IED threats on mountain dirt roads," said Halter.
Halter said aircrews and maintainers are serving so much more to match these escalating missions, in living conditions that remain austere.
"We have folks that continue to step up and volunteer to go, some stay with the units coming up behind us, or some come home to deploy back with another unit."
"But I think this is what they want to do, [be operational] this is what they signed up for," said Halter.
– Master Sgt. Mike Smith contributed.