***image1***The first U.S. airlift operation for the NATO rebuilding mission in Afghanistan, known as the International Security Assistance Force, was completed Monday by a Ramstein C-130 Hercules crew.
Moving coalition passengers and cargo around the Area of Operation was the bulk of the mission; although “the most visual operation was to ensure forces are in place for the first-ever freely held presidential elections in Afghanistan,” said Maj. Jeffery T. Menasco, deployed commander.
At the last minute the NATO E-3 Sentry (AWACS) plane scheduled for operations over the elections cancelled, so the Herk crew jumped in to run radio relay with the fighters and tankers flying combat air patrols over Kabul, Afghanistan.
“We ran relay throughout the elections,” said 1st Lt. Jack Beene, deployed 37th AS co-pilot from Carrolton, Texas. “It enabled (the fighters and tankers) to run at the farthest orbit outside the zone of concern.”
One of the most difficult missions for the crew included eight stops in one day with 20-minute assault landings in each location, operating the C-130E aircraft at its max limits.
“We never shut the engines down and landed in places where the U.S. military hasn’t been in a year and a half,” said Lieutenant Beene. “We had to push the aircraft to its max capacity since most of the runways are small gravel strips.”
The passenger transit over loud engines made for a chaotic offload.
“We made hand-held signs to indicate which stop we were at and held them up to show people when to get off,” said Staff Sgt. John Samp, deployed 37th AS loadmaster from Camino, Calif. “The hardest part was shuffling cargo with the right people because someone might get on at the second stop destined for the sixth one.”
The loadmasters averaged engine running on- and off-load ground times of eight minutes with non-standard cargo.
“One of the most unusual packages we moved was wicker furniture for the Norwegians,” said Sergeant Samp. “They were relocating their offices.”
As a testament to the mission capability, in three months there were only two maintenance problems – an original, 1970 valve broke and a forklift ran into the aircraft in Kabul.
“The underbelly of the aircraft was beaten up by gravel runways but with only two major maintenance problems, it just proves our crews were the best,” said Lieutenant Beene.