The Air Force is providing key airlift capabilities in response to the disaster in Haiti, this is all being handled by Air Mobility Command and the Tanker Airlift Control Center at Scott Air Force Base. One of the main hubs, operating these airlift mission is Charleston Air Force Base. While the majority of the cargo is being picked up at other locations, they are tasking many of the flights in and out of Haiti right now. This includes just about every type of airlift “tail” the Air Force has at it’s disposal. I spent the day touring Charleston Air Force Base yesterday – they had C-130‘s, C-17‘s and C-5‘s parked on their flight line, along with civilian heavy airlift 747‘s.
The first stop on our tour was the Command Post/Base Ops. We had a chance to speak to Captain Kevin Thorsell who is assisting in what the Air Force calls “Stage Management”. Stage Management coordinates the aircrews flying out, alerting them, briefing them and launching them. Since the relief operations started, the team at Charleston has launched more than 140 missions. This is above and beyond their normal ops tempo for OIF OEF. The kinds of things they are moving range anywhere from water and MRE’s to vehicles and people, as the Captain said, “…That’s what the C-17 does, we carry everything.” Charleston’s primary aircraft is the C-17, and currently they are operating 15 jets in support of relief operations – at the peak, they were flying 25 jets at one time. Charleston aircrews aren’t the only ones flying these missions, because of the significant increase in ops tempo, AMC has brought in crews from all over the country, one of Capt Thorsell’s jobs is to ensure that those crews have everything they need, and are taken care of when it comes to some of the creature comforts. A typical day in the life of an aircrew assisting in this operation begins with the alert, at that point they get rolling and have 3 hours and 45 minutes to be wheels up. Once they’re alerted, they will typically prepare for the day, including getting whatever food they need – they’ll arrive at the Command Post and start receiving their mission briefs. This includes an intel and tactics brief and flight planning, from there they “step to the jet” and take off. A typical day can last up to 16 hours, but they can last as long as 20 hours. Crews have to have at least 15 hours of rest time before they are “legal for bravo”, legal for “bravo” means that they can be alerted anytime in a 72 hours period for launch on their next mission. A normal crew consists of 2 pilots and 1 loadmaster, because of the longer duration of these missions they’re using augmented crews which consist of 3 pilots, 2 loadmasters, possibly a crew chief, and 2 Phoenix Raven security forces airmen.
Our next stop was the Air Terminal Operations Center (ATOC), which is located above the Aerial Port. The Aerial Port (AP) is the hub for all cargo in and out of Charleston AFB. The AP is responsible for in processing all cargo, sorting it, palletizing it, load planning, and loading it onto the aircraft. Master Sergeant Michael Davis is the superintendent of the ATOC – this includes the load planning section and the ATOC itself. Once of the things I was most curious about was how significant was the increase in ops tempo was for the AP and how they’ve handled it. MSgt Davis explained, that the ops tempo has “really increased in general with the Haiti relief”. Because most of the cargo is being picked up at other bases, the role of the ATOC has primarily been one of crew logistics support, making sure they have all the supplies they need for the missions. Charleston has sent cargo downrange to support the relief operations as well – they have sent everything from medical supplies to water. In fact, the primary cargo they are transporting to Haiti right now is water.
Overall the impression I got of the operations out of Charleston was good, they are very well organized and are working hard to provide support to the people of Haiti. This is a great example of the Air Forces ability to have global reach, a capability that I think is critical to maintaining our Air Superiority, whether that means supporting combat operations, or providing critical resources in times of disaster.
I leave you with a shot of water on pallets to illustrate the types of loads they’re moving out of here.