Military News

Thursday, August 19, 2010

C-17 squadron sets new standard in deployed airdrops

by Staff Sgt. Tim Jenkins
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

8/19/2010 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- Members of the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron here dropped more than 1,192,000 pounds to 22 different drop zones, including fuel, water, food and additional supplies needed by servicemembers on the ground at forward operating bases across the area of responsibility.

The endeavor, called Operation Everest, took place over the course of one week, and was an effort headed by the 816th EAS to "fully exercise the C-17 (Globemaster III) theater drop capability," said Lt. Col. Stephen Ritter, the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron commander.

The idea for the operation was inspired by airdrop missions during World War II, flying over the hump, and during the Berlin Airlift, where squadrons would push to make big numbers, Colonel Ritter said.

"They would really, really push," he said. "They found that their baseline, what they were comfortable doing in the beginning before a big push, increased afterwards. The norm goes up after a big push because you discover efficiencies and new ways of doing things, which we've done through our whole deployment. We've really upped the ante."

The week's missions added up to 837 bundles dropped, setting a record for C-17 drops in one week, officials said.

Although Operation Everest tops the record books, members of the 816th EAS said the week wasn't about setting records.

"It's not so much a record, but a demonstration for the planners in (U.S. Air Forces Central) to let them know what kind of capability we can bring to the fight by deploying the new efficiencies we've worked on so hard," said Lt. Col. Michael Snodgrass, the 816th EAS operations officer.

The capabilities demonstrated during Operation Everest include the capability of performing three airdrops in one day using one aircraft and two crews, and making three airdrops in one day with one aircraft and crew.

The squadron has also rehashed it's manning, and has improved its capability to change airdrop drop zones on short notice.

"The folks in the mission planning cell have been working on efficiencies trying to figure out how we can do more with less," Colonel Snodgrass said. "We're a smaller squadron than we've had historically, so we're trying to figure out ways that we can continue to put mass on the drop zone with fewer people."

He said these changes were necessary to ramp up capabilities in an effort to help their main customer: the servicemembers on the ground.

"They're down there at a forward operating base and may be hundreds of (kilometers) away from a main base, so we're out there getting them mass to the (drop zone), right to them, dropping the supplies so they can get to them while minimizing their exposure to unfriendly forces," Colonel Snodgrass said.

Staff Sgt. Hardia Madden, an 816th EAS aircraft loadmaster, said he's always thinking about who the supplies are going to on the ground.

"That's probably the best thing you can do with a C-17 or just airdropping," he said. "Knowing that you're getting whatever the guys need at the FOBs that vehicles can't reach, we do a few hours of planning and a few hours of flying, and they've got 40 bundles of what they need: ammo, water, MREs -- stuff to sustain them. Everybody needs stuff and we're proud to get it to them."

It's also a great feeling to know the squadron's efforts are directly affecting the airlift community, putting more bundles on the ground and less aircraft in harm's way, Colonel Snodgrass said.

"The main thing the C-17 is bringing to the fight is mass on the drop zone," he said. "We can drop 40 bundles in one pass. In that one pass we're doing what two-to-three C-130s would take. So by doing it with one C-17, we're minimizing the threat to both the airplanes and the crews."

Although the members of the 816th EAS call Operation Everest a success, they said they're hoping the real success will come in future squadrons continuing the work of efficiently putting more equipment and supplies on the ground.

"We're hoping the squadron that follows us at the end of this month, we're going to leave them all of the plans we've come up with, and they're going to take those, and come up with better things," Colonel Snodgrass said. "The goal is to keep doing more with less and to keep giving the warfighter what he needs."

Colonel Ritter said the work of the 816th EAS is the product of contributions from not only the members of his squadron, but also the mission partners, who have given unwavering support.

"I've really enjoyed watching this team work -- setting a goal, setting the bar high and watching them achieve it," Colonel Ritter said. "I'm really proud with how this squadron has interacted with our mission partners here at the 379th (AEW), with the Army mission partners and with all our downrange folks all throughout the AOR. They came in from day one to do the job right and to help everyone do great things. It just goes to show the great things you can achieve when you build a cohesive, tight, professional team."

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