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AF rapid response unit enhances their skills during Patriot Sands

AF rapid response unit enhances their skills during Patriot SandsHUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, Ga. (AFNS)

The distinct sound of helicopters hovering, mixed with the roar of jet engines and automatic weapons fire from a nearby range, filled the air on a cool, sunny day in southeast Georgia.

Members from the 315th Airlift Wing’s Airlift Control Flight (ALCF) took part in Patriot Sands, a training exercise that kicked off Feb. 17 at Hunter Army Airfield.

The exercise incorporated the resources of several ALCF units, as well as affiliate agencies such as the FBI’s Rapid Response Team and the Coast Guard Maritime Security Response Team.

ALCF is a rapid response unit comprised of experienced airlift and operations team members. This includes Airmen from nine Air Force career fields, who manage, coordinate and control air mobility assets in austere locations under combat conditions. Unit members are ready to deploy to any part of the world in 36 hours.

“Exercises like Patriot Sands are essential to our mission,” said Maj. John Ramsey, the 315th ALCF commander. “The pilots get to experience heavier loads than they normally do. The aerial porters get to work away from their home station, which helps them develop their skills. The loadmasters get operational experience with rolling stock, which isn’t normal to their everyday mission. And finally, we get the chance to practice and train on our mission set, which is setting up an airfield where we are able to handle the command and control of aircraft.”

For 315th ALCF members, the exercise started at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, where they loaded a C-17 Globemaster III, piloted by a crew from the 317th Airlift Squadron, and flew to Hunter AF.

“This type of training is an excellent example of how we stay mission ready and mission focused,” said Col. Caroline Evernham, the 315th Operations Group commander. “The ALCF works hard with their affiliates to ensure they are trained and ready to prepare their equipment for transport at any time. The efficiencies gained from this week’s training will help us when we really need it.”

One of the main items loaded onto the C-17 for the training was a large, tan-in-color container a hardside expandable light air mobility shelter (HELAMS).

The HELAMS, once set in its desired location, transforms from a plain box to a fully expanded and functional command and control center with doors, windows and electricity. This workspace is then used to house the communications equipment and gear needed for ALCF’s operational readiness.

Other than the hands-on training that ALCF receives from setting up their equipment during the exercise, team members also benefit from the affiliate agencies that they have partnered with to accomplish their training objectives.

“We make sure that the sister services and Department of Defense affiliates are current and ready for a real-world missions,” said Master Sgt. Mark Schmidt, 315th ALCF Operations NCO in charge.

ALCF teaches the FBI and other affiliate agencies to properly prepare their equipment for air mobility, Schmidt said. This includes the standardization of weighing, fueling, packing, cleaning, inspecting and sorting of their equipment so that it’s ready to load when the aircraft gets on station.

Patriot Sands is an annual Air Force Reserve Command exercise for ALCF to train in accordance with their designed operational capability mission statement to deploy as a contingency response element. The exercise is scheduled to last for five days.

The Ghost over the highway: Reservists renew bond with Desert Storm AC-130A gunship

The Ghost over the highway: Reservists renew bond with Desert Storm AC-130A gunshipWASHINGTON (AFNS)

More than 20 years after two Air Force Reserve Command leaders flew into combat together over the “Highway of Death” in Iraq, they were reunited with the aircraft that took them on the mission.

Maj. Gen. Richard S. “Beef” Haddad and Col. Randal L. Bright boarded the AC-130A gunship No. 55-0014 again June 12, 2014, at the Museum of Aviation at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, where the aircraft is on display for the public to see. Robins is also home of Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command.

On Feb. 26, 1991, Haddad, then a captain, and Bright, a first lieutenant both members of the 711th Special Operations Squadron at Duke Field, Florida were assigned to a mission over a road connecting Kuwait City to Baghdad. In August of the previous year, Iraqi soldiers had invaded Kuwait, sparking a chain of events that soon led to the U.S. sending military members to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield/Storm. The 711th SOS was part of these operations. The road was crowded with Iraqi military vehicles exiting Kuwait and going back to Iraq.

Two other reservists, Maj. Michael N. Wilson and Maj. Clay McCutchan, piloted the lead aircraft as the 711th SOS raced to stop Iraqi forces fleeing from Kuwait to Iraq. Wilson and McCutchan determined that they did not have enough fuel to successfully execute the mission. As a result, they radioed Haddad and implored him to “hurry up” and “get up here.”

While en route, Haddad noticed that his aircraft’s autopilot feature was not working. Without the autopilot, Haddad and his co-pilot, Bright, faced a greater challenge than they had anticipated because they relied upon the autopilot’s altitude-hold function to keep the aircraft at a fixed altitude while they banked and fired the gunship’s weapons.

To compensate, Haddad had to manually control the ailerons to turn the aircraft while also firing the guns. Bright, facing an equally challenging task, crouched down in his seat in order to work the aircraft’s throttles and yoke simultaneously to maintain a fixed altitude. Working in tandem to complete the mission, Haddad, Bright and the rest of the reservists aboard the aircraft remained on station, firing their weapons with little resistance a situation that quickly changed.

As they began to leave the “killbox,” Haddad and company discovered that their efforts had not gone unnoticed. As they headed south, Master Sgt. Don Dew, the illuminator operator, excitedly yelled “missile launch” over the radio. In response, Haddad increased power and put the aircraft in a dive while Capt. Jose Davidson, the aircraft’s navigator, released flares to counter the missile. Unaware of the navigator’s actions, Haddad and Bright, hearing the noise and seeing the light produced by the flare, believed their aircraft had been hit.

“My hands were gripping the throttles, thinking we were going down,” Haddad said.

After seeing more flashes, Haddad and Bright realized that they were in no danger.

The significance of the mission they participated in that night was not immediately apparent to Haddad and his crew. However, the stretch of road that they had fired on quickly became known as the “Highway of Death” due to the enormity of the destruction caused that night.

While the exact number of casualties remains unknown, the attack destroyed an estimated 1,400 to 2,000 vehicles. Haddad, Bright and the crew destroyed at least 20 enemy trucks and four armored personnel carriers. They received the Air Medal for their actions that night.

More than two decades after Operation Desert Storm, Haddad, who now serves as vice commander of AFRC, and Bright, chief of the Plans Division in the Directorate of Plans and Programs at Headquarters AFRC, reflected on that eventful night in early 1991.

“It was an exciting time for me and the other members of my crew,” Haddad said. “That experience helped me go to war in the future as we went to OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) and OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom). It helped in terms of realizing the risks and what it was like to be a crew member going into that kind of environment.”

Like Haddad, Bright maintained that the night had a lasting impact on him and his career because it “was always something I could hang my hat on. As a youngster in the Air Force, I had seen combat.”

(This article was first published in the August 2014 edition of Citizen Airman)

SecAF speaks at CSIS for Smart Women, Smart Power series

SecAF speaks at CSIS for Smart Women, Smart Power seriesWASHINGTON (AFNS)

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies as part of its Smart Women, Smart Power series Jan. 14.

SWSP launched in December 2014 and convenes top-level women leaders to discuss critical and timely issues in their respective fields, reflect on their professional experiences, and share ideas and insights.

With the 25th anniversary of the start of Desert Storm on Jan. 16, James recalled lessons she learned from that particular operation.

“I remember being in awe of the first time the fantastic combination of stealth and precision weaponry (was used), all of which was enabled by space,” James said. “That was the first time that the investments that had been made, in some cases a decade or two decades, actually came together on the battlefield and for the first time the world saw what the United States military could do in this new era.”

Among many things, James was asked about setting up no-fly zones in Iraq and Syria as well as the limits of the air campaign in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

“I would first tell you all, it’s very much a whole of government approach,” James said. “There are more than 60 countries involved with the coalition doing different aspects of the work and, of course, it’s a joint situation.

“But make no mistake; it has been very heavily the United States Air Force that has covered this air campaign,” she continued. “This is everything from striking the targets to the very important intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to the assets in space that enable everything that goes on. The strategy is we are going to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.”

With technology being key in maintaining air superiority, the Air Force is focused on the Defense Department’s third offset strategy which is finding the next key technology that will help ensure the U.S. maintains the advantage over adversaries.

“Think of super computers that can crunch data and make sense out of different databases, I think that will be part of it,” James said. “I think another piece is likely to be, I’ll call it, human machine collaborations. Human interfaces with technology in different, new and creative ways.”

When asked about China and Russia’s hand in space, James said the Air Force is shifting people and resources toward space.

“We are going to start treating space the way we treat everything else in the U.S. military,” James continued. “That is, we need to get our heads around the fact that one day there could be a conflict on Earth that, in some way, bleeds into space. We are going to start experimentations, the various types of practice things that we do in other domains in the military to make sure that we can defend appropriately our constellation in space.”

At the conclusion of the event, James answered questions from the audience that ranged from maternity and paternity leave, women in combat roles, and the use of remotely piloted aircraft.

Buddy Wing 16-2 takes flight over Osan skies

Buddy Wing 16-2 takes flight over Osan skiesOSAN AIR BASE, South Korea (AFNS)

The 51st Fighter Wing hosted Buddy Wing 16-2 at Osan Air Base Feb. 22-25, showcasing Airmen from the 25th Fighter Squadron and Aircraft Maintenance Unit.

South Korean air force pilots and maintainers from the 237th FS at Wonju Air Base, traveled to Osan AB in a continued effort to support the alliance.

“The Buddy Wing exercise creates an opportunity to share knowledge and discuss and improve processes that can be tactically developed by both (South Korean air force) KA-1 and U.S. Air Force A-10 (Thunderbolt II) pilots,” said Maj. Hwang, Jung-hwan, a 237th FS pilot. “This Buddy Wing will grant an opportunity for us to prepare and be ready to cope with unexpected situations we have never experienced in person by performing practical training where our (South Korean air force) may lack.”

Members participating in Buddy Wing 16-2 trained to build relationships and broaden their knowledge of working in a joint environment with continued training operations aimed at deterring enemy aggression.

U.S. Air Force A-10s from the 25th FS integrated with South Korean air force KA-1 Woongbi fighter aircraft from the 237th FS to perform close air support missions.

“Buddy Wing is conducted quarterly to integrate and conduct joint, combined missions,” said 1st Lt. Samantha Latch, a 25th FS A-10 pilot. “As we fly and train together, not only are we getting to know them, but we’re increasing our capability to work together.

After 62 years, the South Korean and U.S. alliance continues to be one of the longest standing and successful alliances in modern history. Exercises such as Buddy Wing, along with other combined operations and training events, add to the continued success.

“The exercise promotes mutual understanding and motivation to maintain a strong alliance between (South Korea) and U.S.,” Hwang said.

Buddy Wing 16-2 is the second in a series of joint training, combat exercises conducted in 2016 across the peninsula.

Air Force continues to improve care in the air

Air Force continues to improve care in the airThe Air Force is committed to research and development for advancements in en route patient care.

The Air Mobility Command Surgeon General’s office and researchers across the Air Force, to include the 711th Human Resource Wing at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, have been working together to improve how the Air Force provides care in the air. The AMC/SG is responsible for clinical oversight of the Air Force aeromedical evacuation (AE) system.

“Over the last 15 years, the joint community has made tremendous strides in providing care to our wounded warriors,” said Col. Susan Dukes, the En Route Care Research Division chief for the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine at Wright Patterson AFB.

“We now have programs of research specific to en route care. It’s very important to clinicians and researchers to capture lessons learned in order to improve our policies and procedures for patient care,” Dukes added.

About every 12 to18 months, AMC conducts a capability based assessment which informs the surgeon general’s office where gaps are across the en route care spectrum. Gaps are categorized in areas such as doctrine, personnel, and facilities, and assist AMC/SG with focusing its research efforts, said Col. Andrea Gooden, the En route Medical Care Division chief for AMC/SG.

Many of the questions asked by researchers require a series of studies to reach an evidence-based approach that informs policy or changes clinical practice, Dukes said.

Researchers are studying the stresses of flight and the various impacts of transport, such as hypoxia and vibration, she said. Findings from these studies will help identify what needs to be done differently while caring for patients in the en route care system compared to care provided to patients in the hospital environment.

Dukes said over the years, another aspect of researched care has been pain control. Research has shown that if severe pain is not controlled early on, it can lead to problems with chronic pain. Controlling severe pain following devastating injuries has also been suggested to protect against the development of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

“The Air Force is trying to look at better ways to manage pain within the en route care system,” Dukes said. “Identifying pain management challenges was the first step. We are now looking at interventions, to include the use of regional anesthesia for our critical care and AE patients. We are also researching diversion and music therapy as non-pharmacological measures for pain control in our non-critical patients.”

She said studies have been completed by other researchers to assess the effectiveness of alternative pain management methods, such as acupuncture.

Another documented research gap is the need to understand the relationship between the time of the injury and the time to transport. A study recently released by researchers at the University Of Maryland School Of Medicine revealed evidence suggesting air evacuations of traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients may pose a significant added risk, potentially causing additional damage to already injured brains. Identifying the impact of transport and the best time to transport patients with different disease processes or injuries are questions military researchers have been studying for several years, Dukes said.

This study was looking at the timing of simulated transport with different amounts of oxygen administered using an animal model, Dukes noted. Additional studies are needed before these findings can be applied to policy.

“We are taking it into consideration as we look at how we care for our TBI patients,” Gooden said. “Our flight surgeons evaluate each patient individually as they are validated for movement. We are taking the research seriously, but we really need to replicate in a human model before we change policy.”

The Defense Department is also developing a new electronic health record to be pushed across all services soon. The AMC Surgeon General’s office aims to provide a solution to the disconnect between ground medical capabilities to the AE capability, Gooden said. Currently, there is an electronic record of care received on the ground, but not in the air.

“If you consider where you are taking off from and what agencies are delivering the patient and then subsequently receiving the patients, if they are not all using the same program, it quickly becomes complex,” said Lt. Col. William Thoms, the aeromedical evacuation clinical operations chief for AMC/SG. “When we land to pick up our patients, AE and critical care teams need to be able to receive the data seamlessly to provide further positive outcomes.”

The goal is for the AE crews to be able to telecommute or reach out to communicate to ground sources, he said. This will enable the providers on the ground to give AE personnel definitive and clear guidance on how to take care of any crisis taking place in the air.

How AE Airmen train also plays in an integral role in operational readiness and improved care. AMC/SG recently led a high performance team focused on clinical sustainment training for AE, patient staging and critical care. The results identified research is needed on the use and effectiveness of simulation in clinical training.

“Our number one priority is incorporating simulation into our clinical training requirements,” Gooden said. “We are trying to incorporate and standardize training across the total force: AE, patient staging and critical care elements. Eventually having the ability to cross train the services would benefit every en route care node.”

For instance, the command is hoping to create clinical training centers for excellence which would include en route care research along with the AE, patient staging and critical care disciplines, said Lt. Col. James Speight, the chief of AE clinical training for AMC/SG.

The research lab is looking at using virtual environments, gaming and personalized training to keep AE members proficient.

“We are hoping to understand how much simulation is effective to properly train the critical care, AE and patient staging personnel,” Speight said.

It is a huge undertaking to standardize simulation training across the spectrum, he said.

“There’s an initiative moving forward to incorporate training and networking across the services because, when we look at the en route care system, it’s not just the Air Force,” Speight said. “We have initiatives underway to help provide standardized integrated training and preparation so the entire en route care process can be as safe as possible for our patients.”

The DOD, through many initiatives, has improved the survival rate of wounded warriors since the advent of operations in U.S. Central Command. Continually improving care through the use of evidence-based practice is a key area supporting these improvements. As a result of research and innovative training, care in the air will continue to improve in the future.

Operation Desert Storm: 25 years later, AMC doing more with less

Operation Desert Storm: 25 years later, AMC doing more with lessSCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (AFNS)

Iraqi forces attacked Kuwait Aug. 2, 1990, setting into motion a massive military response from a coalition of nations to protect Saudi Arabia from invasion with Operation Desert Shield. After Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein refused to withdraw from Kuwait, Desert Shield gave way to Operation Desert Storm Jan. 17, 1991, and soon concluded with a ceasefire at the end of February.

Twenty-five years later, Mobility Air Forces are continuing to fuel the fight and provide airlift with most of the same airframes the Air Force used during Desert Storm.

Jan. 17 marks the 25th anniversary of the total force performing the most rapid airlift movement in history. Nearly 472,800 people and approximately 465,000 tons of cargo were deployed to the Persian Gulf in eight months.

The buildup

Airlift and air refueling enabled the rapid arrival of the first U.S. forces in Desert Shield. Two F-15 Eagle squadrons from Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, arrived in Saudi Arabia on Aug. 7, 1990.

Military Airlift Command launched its first airlift mission that day as well, a C-141 mission from Charleston AFB, South Carolina, carrying airlift control elements.

Within the next 24 hours, ALCEs were in place in Saudi Arabia to manage the airlift flow. The ALCE personnel and cargo were carried on 37 C-141s, 10 C-5 Galaxies and 10 C-130 Hercules missions. U.S. Transportation Command completed the largest unit deployment ever via air with 412 strategic airlift aircraft. From Aug. 8-26, the Strategic Airlift Command airlifted the 82nd Airborne Division to Saudi Arabia while simultaneously moving the 101st Airborne Division from Aug. 17-25.

In a little more than two months, the XVIII Airborne Corps, consisting of an airborne division, an air-assault division, two heavy divisions, an armored cavalry regiment, and the requisite array of combat support and combat service support assets, deployed. The arriving inventory included more than 120,000 troops, 700 tanks, 1,400 armored fighting vehicles, and 600 artillery pieces.

Not long into the operation, a lack of spare parts impeded the buildup to Desert Storm. To help cope with priority deliveries, TRANSCOM established a special code 9AU and an airlift system to support. On Oct. 30, 1990, Mobility Air Forces began a special airlift operation called Desert Express to provide daily delivery of spare parts considered absolutely crucial to the war effort.

This was a new concept of airlift operations, which involved C-141 deliveries from Charleston AFB to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. With a stop for refueling, the journey took about 17 hours one way, according to a document titled “So Many, So Much, So Far, So Fast: United States Transportation Command and Strategic Deployment for Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.”

On Dec. 23, the airlift sustainment backlog peaked 10,300 tons. On Feb. 13, USTRANSCOM began flying a second C-141 flight per day to tackle the backlog until it was discontinued May 20, 1991. By the end of the war, Desert Express flew nearly 135 missions.

Operation Desert Storm

Directed by USTRANSCOM, the Military Airlift Command managed the Desert Shield/Desert Storm strategic airlift. MAC’s active-duty force joined with MAC-gained aircraft and crews from the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard to make up a total strategic airlift force.

The “surge” of total force and the first activation of the Civilian Reserve Airlift Fleet was essential to the Desert Shield/Desert Storm success. There were 12,894 strategic airlift missions during both operations.

Commercial airline augmentation was also crucial to the airlift effort. The Civil Reserve Air Fleet was activated for the first time during Desert Shield/Desert Storm and flew 3,309 missions.

Altogether, commercial aircraft delivered 321,005 passengers and 145,225 tons of cargo, including 64 percent of passenger movements, according to the USTRANSCOM historical document.

On the military airlift side, the C-130 supported intra-theater needs and is credited with 1,193 tactical airlift missions. More than 145 C-130 aircraft deployed in support of Desert Shield/Desert Storm. The C-130s flew 46,500 sorties and moved more than 209,000 people and 300,000 tons of supplies within the theater.

The C-141 was called the “workhorse” of Desert Shield/Desert Storm, according to the USTRANSCOM document. It flew 8,536 strategic airlift missions, followed by the C-5 with 3,770; the KC-10 with 379 and the C-9 with 209. The C-141 and C-5 accounted for 361,147 tons, or 66 percent of the cargo airlifted in support of the Gulf War.

Gen. Hansford T. Johnson, the MAC commander at the time, compared the first few weeks of deployment effort to airlifting a small city.

“We moved, in essence, a Midwestern town the size of Lafayette, Indiana, or Jefferson City, Missouri,” Johnson was quoted as saying in the MAC history book. “In addition, we’ve also moved the equivalent of all their cars, trucks, foodstuffs, stocks, household goods and water supply.”

The Strategic Airlift Command led refueling missions during Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

“Once the deployment order was given on Aug. 7, 1990, tankers played an integral role in getting forces and aircraft to the deployed theater of operations,” retired Air Force Gen. Kenneth Keller, the former SAC director of operations, said during a 2009 AMC Tanker Living Legends Speaker Series.

Seven B-52Gs from Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, dropped the first bombs to initiate Operation Desert Storm Jan. 17, 1991. The bombers launched 35 conventional air launch cruise missiles, flew 14,000 miles for more than 35 hours without landing.

These were the first combat sorties launched for the liberation of Kuwait in support of Operation Desert Storm, and it marked the longest combat sortie flight totaling 14,000 miles in 35 hours and 24 minutes. This mission required multiple four inflight refuels outbound and four returning, according to the Air Force Global Strike Command.

“Without the phenomenal tanker support we had for the war, we could not have accomplished what we did,” retired Lt. Gen. Patrick Caruana said in the Tanker Living Legends Speaker Series. Caruana was the U.S. Central Air Forces’ air campaign planner and commander during Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

Tankers flew 4,967 sorties and off-loaded more than 28.2 million gallons of fuel to 14,588 receivers during the 132 days of Desert Shield buildup, according to the Air Force History Office document “Seventy-Five Years of Inflight Refueling.” The 43 days of Desert Storm included 15,434 sorties and dispensed 110.2 million gallons of fuel to U.S. and allied aircraft.

“Desert Shield and Desert Storm demonstrated the U.S. Air Force’s capability to respond to crisis and contingency situations in times of intense demand with limited resources,” said Gen. Carlton D. Everhart II, the AMC commander. “Today, Headquarters AMC planners evaluate these operations to determine more efficient methods of providing rapid global mobility and enhance AMC’s agility.”

Evolution of Air Mobility Command

Following Desert Storm, SAC and MAC merged to form Air Mobility Command. One constant through the years is the demand for rapid global mobility through aeromedical evacuation, airlift and aerial refueling. Today, AMC is meeting high demands with a smaller force and older fleet.

In the past 25 years, AMC retired the C-141B/C and the C-9A; made improvements to current airframes, C-5, KC-135 Stratotanker, C-130 and C-17 Globemaster III; and adopted a new airframe, the KC-46 Pegasus.

Mobility Airmen are off-loading more fuel now in support of the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant than what was offloaded when U.S. forces were on the ground in Iraq, operating with only 27 percent of the KC-135 fleet size originally assigned to AMC in 1992.

During 2010, at the height of Operation Enduring Freedom, Mobility Air Forces moved 856,208 short tons of cargo the most in OEF history, compared to 543,548 short tons moved in the Gulf War. That same year, AMC had 429 aircraft assigned, less than half of the number of aircraft assigned at its inception in 1992.

“For the past 25 years since Desert Storm and Desert Shield, the (United States) has been in a state of continuous conflict,” said Terry Johnson, the Air Mobility Command’s air, space and information operations deputy director on Scott AFB, Illinois. “As we come out of Southwest Asia and shift from a constant state of continuous conflict, (Air Mobility Command’s) focus needs to return to maintaining readiness especially after a period of fiscal austerity.”

Today, there’s one Mobility Air Forces departure every 2.8 minutes, every day, 365 days per year.

“The Air Force puts the ‘rapid’ in global mobility,” Gen. Everhart said. “AMC is still required to support an increasingly demanding operations tempo while preserving the capability to surge if called upon. Without our total force and Civil Reserve Air Fleet partners, surge operations would be almost impossible.”

Kadena launches Pacific region’s first MC-130J five-ship formation flight

Kadena launches Pacific region's first MC-130J five-ship formation flightKADENA AIR BASE, Japan (AFNS)

Instead of the usual howl of jet engines, members of Kadena Air Base heard the growl of 120 turboprop blades chopping the air as the 17th Special Operations Squadron’s MC-130J Commando IIs dominated the airfield scene Feb. 17.

Within an hour of standing by at stations, the aircraft took to the skies during the Pacific region’s first five-ship formation flight involving the new specialized mobility aircraft.

The formation was part of the 353rd Special Operations Group’s training exercise that tested the 17th SOS and the 353rd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron to launch a short-notice, large-scale tasking.

“We routinely fly two ships, but we mobilized five ships to test our ability to generate aircraft in full force, to make sure our maintenance can support that, and to make sure we can do the planning in case we are ever asked to fly a large formation,” said Maj. Brad Talley, the 17th SOS assistant director of operations.

As part of that assessment, team members evaluated their formation flying and short runway landings; combat systems operators tested their cargo air drop timing; and loadmasters tested their cargo delivery system rigging abilities.

“We mobilized all available personnel in the squadron to execute this mission, while all five planes were able to accomplish all cargo drops, land in a small landing zone, maintain formation, and return safely,” Talley said.

Though the team successfully accomplished the exercise objectives, it wasn’t a simple process. Despite complex procedures, the 17th SOS Jakal team members overcame the challenges to ensure mission completion.

“The most difficult portion was the planning and safe execution of the mission, since most of our squadron isn’t used to that level of de-confliction complexity,” said Senior Airman Zach Harmon, a 17th SOS MC-130J Commando II loadmaster.

To Talley, the best part of the mission was seeing the whole team fly together and build camaraderie.

“My favorite part was flying in close formation with all my Jakal brethren, exploring various formation geometries, and seeing how well each crew flew,” Talley said.

The 17th SOS was activated as a permanent unit at Kadena AB on Aug. 1, 1989, and is instrumental in carrying out wartime and contingency operations in support of U.S. and allied special operations forces.

The 17th SOS began the transition from the MC-130P Combat Shadows to the MC-130J Commando IIs in Dec. 2014, with the latest aircraft arriving on Kadena in Oct. 2015. Technological advances allow the Commando II to set new standards for safety and accuracy in executing clandestine missions.

The new aircraft specializes in nighttime, low-level infiltration/exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces as well as air refueling missions for special operations’ vertical lift aircraft.

The 353rd SOG, made up of more than 800 Airmen, is the only Air Force Special Operations Command unit in the Pacific and is integral to AFSOC. The group conducts wartime and contingency operations planning and execution as well as humanitarian and relief operations, all the while maintaining global mobility readiness for special forces around the world.

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