Friday, February 16, 2007

TOP STORY >> Airlift mission takes over 5,000 convoys off road

By 2nd Lt. Kelly George
314th Airlift Wing Strategic Information Flight

A small group of Airmen gathered in the cold Tuesday at a sign outside of the 463rd Airlift Group building to tack up the number 5,001. The sign, in existence for about four months, designates the number of convoy vehicles that have been taken off the dangerous roads in Iraq due to the airlift mission. Airmen from the 463rd Airlift Group carry a large part of the deployment burden due to the busy C-130 mission of its deployed squadron, the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, at Balad Air Base, Iraq.

The 777th stays busy, averaging about 25 sorties a day, according to Lt. Col. Tim Anderson, recently returned 777th EAS squadron commander. “Our whole mission is convoy mitigation,” said Colonel Anderson. “What we’re doing is impacting American lives. The (Improvised Explosive Devise) threat is one of the biggest threats to our ground troops. I don’t think people fully understand the impact we have other there.”

The need for this awareness is what prompted members from the 463rd AG to take action in conjunction with members of the 314th Airlift Wing, creating the sign that now stands in front of the group building. “I drive by it (the sign) everyday on the way to work,” said Senior Airman Cecil Johnson, loadmaster from the 50th Airlift Squadron, who recently returned from his second deployment to Iraq. “I think back to the amount of people I’ve helped, it’s very rewarding.”

“We talk to a lot of the Army (personnel),” said Senior Airman Nate Southwick, a loadmaster with the 61st Airlift Squadron. “A lot of guys cheer as soon as we’re wheels up.” “A lot of people on the base don’t realize the true impact the squadron is making,” he said. “After every flight I calculate totals of passengers and cargo so I get to see the impact.”

While aircrews stay busy with convoy mitigation, as a result, deployed maintenance Airmen face their own challenges.
Senior Airman Courtney Coker, who works in Nondestructive Inspection Testing for the 314th Airlift Wing Maintenance Squadron is “on the other side of flight crews, we keep the planes in the air.”

Airman Coker, whose husband is a flight engineer with the 50th AS, was recently deployed to Balad with the 332nd Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron. Two months into her four month deployment, her husband deployed to the same location. Keeping up with the busy maintenance schedule, Airman Coker feels especially connected to the convoy mitigation mission.

“We have to keep them (C-130s) flying to continue the mission,” she said. “Especially because my husband will be flying," she said. Another 120 Airmen, the majority of which were aircrews from the 463rd AG deployed Feb. 9 to Iraq. For most, this was not the first, nor the last time they will deploy in support of the C-130 mission. Many aircrews are in the “one-to-one dwell,” which means that Airmen spend equal time deployed and at home station, according to 314th Airlift Wing Public Affairs officer, Capt. Dave Faggard.

“The C-130 community is being used pretty heavily,” said Colonel Anderson, “but you’ll never hear folks complain.”


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