86th team assesses Botswana airlift capabilities

Nate Cairney
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***In extreme south Africa, sitting next to strife-torn Zimbabwe and
possessing the second highest adult HIV prevalence rate in the world,
Botswana hardly seems like a country whose defense forces would have
C-130 avionics that the most powerful air force in the world does not.

“They have upgrades we don’t even have here,” said Capt. John Dereix,
86th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron maintenance officer. “They’ve got
glass cockpit displays. That’s pretty cool.”

Granted, the Botswana Defense Force only has a grand total of three
1950’s-era C-130B’s at their disposal. But when Captain Dereix, Senior
Master Sgt. James Johnson and Master Sgt. Greg Flood recently visited
Botswana’s Thebephatswa Air Base to help assess the BDF’s maintenance
and flying capabilities for supporting the African Union’s airlift
relief missions to the Darfur region of Sudan, the Ramstein-based
Airmen were impressed.

“We were pleasantly surprised,” said Sergeant Johnson, 86th Maintenance
Operations Squadron chief of scheduling. “We didn’t expect it (the
Botswana operation) to be as efficient as it was.  For what they
have, their equipment is in good shape.”

According to the three Airmen, the Botswana C-130s rate highly in
several areas. Despite the fact that they are a decade older than most
of those in the U.S. fleet, the BDF planes have extremely low flight
hours, new engines and new avionics.  “They’ve had the aircraft
for 10 years and have maybe put 1,000 to 1,100 hours on them – total,”
said Sergeant Johnson.  “We fly ours 50 to 100 hours per month.”

BDF members were very proficient in other areas, too. According to
Captain Dereix, many BDF members regularly attend U.S.-based training
sessions and even visited Ramstein last year.  Their
documentation, despite a lack of computers, was sound and the hangars
were clean and well-maintained.
“Overall, they have a fairly organized and disciplined military,” said
Sergeant Flood, 86th Maintenance Squadron production
superintendent.  “They took pride in what they had.”

The BDF still faces challenges, though, in their efforts to support AU
airlift missions. Chief among them is manpower.  “They don’t incur
an active duty commitment,” said Captain Dereix. “Someone can go
through training and then decide the next day they want to walk away.”

Still, Captain Dereix added, the BDF claims the average duration of
duty is 16 years, and – like the U.S. military – a pension is offered
to those members who stay 20 years or more.

When it was time to return to Germany, the Airmen were glad to have had
the experience. “Before we went, I was questioning whether this was a
good thing or not,” said Sergeant Flood. “After being there, it was
money and time well spent. These are allies we want.  These are