by Capt. Tristan Hinderliter
451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
12/4/2012 - KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- On one sortie they may be airdropping food, ammo and fuel to Special Operations troops at a remote forward operating base.
On the next, they might transport troops to or from an austere location,
move prisoners to a secure facility, provide airlift to Afghan National
Army allies, perform aeromedical evacuation, or transport distinguished
visitors -- completing many of these tasks on the same day.
For aircrews with the 772nd Expeditionary Airlift Squadron here, every day brings a unique and challenging mission.
"Not only do our aircrews have to be good pilots and loadmasters, they
have to do logistics planning, personnel work, perform security detail
on flights, and even serve as a command and control node for those
different folks that are flying on the plane with them," said Maj. Sean
Callahan, director of operations for the 772nd EAS.
Callahan and approximately 150 other Airmen in the squadron are deployed
here from Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas. In addition to
operators and the maintainers that keep the C-130J Super Hercules
flying, the 772nd EAS also has aviation resource management personnel,
intelligence analysts, tacticians, aircrew flight equipment technicians
and medical professionals.
The squadron averages 50 sorties a day, shared between seven crews. And
tremendous behind-the-scenes coordination is required to execute their
Known informally as the "Gun Runners," the 772nd EAS performs the large
majority of airdrop missions in theater, averaging about two airdrop
missions per day. The C-130 crews fly in diverse operating environments,
from high-altitude airdrops in an unpressurized airplane at 20,000 feet
to flying passengers to Kyrgyzstan, the United Arab Emirates, or
Pakistan, or landing on a small dirt airstrip in the middle of the
Most airdrop missions utilize the conventional Container Delivery
System, which can deliver more than 30,000 pounds of supplies to troops
on the ground. Another method used less frequently is the Low-Cost,
Low-Altitude system which provides a very precise and inexpensive method
One mission in November brought a fresh set of challenges to one C-130J crew.
The crew was made up of Capt. Russell Neice, pilot and aircraft
commander; 1st Lt. Rob Consiglio, copilot; and the loadmasters, Senior
Airmen Dan Simonsen and Marcus Wright. On this mission, the crew would
perform two airdrops, one conventional and one at low altitude. The
latter can be especially challenging for the crew, as they approach the
drop zone flying at 300 feet above the ground over uneven terrain.
In the back of the plane, the loadmasters donned their harnesses and
secured the straps that hooked up to the floor of the aircraft. As they
opened the ramp, the sound of the wind rushed in and the brown desert
and low, jagged mountains of southwest Afghanistan appeared below. After
the pilots gave a countdown, the loadmasters gave a shove to the 600-lb
bundles, which slid out the back with their parachutes opening up,
catching the wind with a great "whoosh."
"I think the most rewarding missions we do are airdrop," Callahan said.
"We fly airdrop missions because Soldiers on the ground need critical
supplies that can't be delivered using more conventional methods.
Airdrop missions require a combination of precision flying, solid
teamwork between the pilots and the loadmasters, good communication
between the ground party and the aircrew, and properly rigged parachutes
and bundles -- and often performed in situations where the bad guys are
trying to shoot us."
This was the second LCLA airdrop for Neice, who is on his second deployment to Kandahar and his first as an aircraft commander.
"Flying here as an aircraft commander is a lot different than flying as a
copilot," he said. "There are more things you have to take into
consideration. Every time we land in a new place, there could be a
change in the mission."
One of the most memorable experiences for him was having the chance to
take one of his friends from Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, to Manas,
Kyrgyzstan, for redeployment, he said.
Camaraderie that's the best thing about the deployment, the crewmembers said.
With the wide variety of missions flown across the entire theater,
tactical airlift missions provide a very intimate perspective of the
"The things we do touch everybody in a personal way on every single
sortie," Callahan said. "It's very rewarding to know our efforts make
such a difference."