Sunday, August 5, 2007

Airmen prep battlefield dropping 120,000 leaflets

24 July 07
by Capt. Teresa Sullivan
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs.

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) - Airmen of the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing dropped 120,000 leaflets over the Helmand Province in Afghanistan July 22 to help prevent civilian casualties while prepping the battlefield for future operations.

The nine-member crew of the 746th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, all based out of Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, successfully accomplished a short-notice mission to release leaflets over four southwestern Afghanistan drop zones in a dangerous Taliban hot spot, despite challenging winds and dust storms.

The leaflets were designed to deliver a message to the people of the province to take refuge in their homes and also discourage them from harboring Taliban members. In the meantime, coalition forces continue efforts to eliminate the insurgent's stronghold while avoiding loss of innocent lives.

The mission began several days prior to C-130 Hercules' takeoff when the squadron was alerted and planners began developing their strategy. Their computer-based plan considered route, location, wind forecasts and leaflet size in its calculations. High winds and dust storms throughout the area made planning a challenge.

Prior to the mission, the aircrew gathered to discuss the game plan.

"It's going to be a long night, but you are all prepared," said Lt. Col. Joe Sexton, the 746th EAS commander to the C-130 crew after the mission brief. "It's no coincidence that you all are on this (mission). I have full confidence in all of you. You guys are going to go out there and do it right."

Ready to put their plan to the test, they set off for the airdrop.

"We were originally scheduled to do a different mission, but we were alerted to come into work because we were going to be doing a 'special' mission," said Capt. Brett Cochran, a C-130 pilot and native of Pflugerville, Texas. The captain was responsible for flying the aircraft over four drop zones. "This is the first mission of this kind for our squadron during this deployment so far, so it's important we get things started on a good note."

A lot was on the minds of crew members who were new to the combat zone airdrop business. "What-if" discussions included the dust storms, fuel, shifting winds, contingency plans and defensive tactics on the way to Kandahar International Airport to pick up the leaflets.

The Air Force uses leaflets to deter enemy forces or reduce their will to fight. In this case they were being used to encourage innocent bystanders to stay out of harm's way. While the leaflet-drop mission may be new to some of the pilots of this expeditionary squadron, it's a mission that's tied closely to the 379th AEW's heritage.

In the summer of 1944, leaflets were dropped over Germany by the 379th's ancestor, the 379th Bombardment Group of the 8th Air Force, intended to shape the adversary's psyche, and to destroy their ability to wage war.

Then 379th BG's leaflets were designed to spread the word on allied progress during World War II. Some provided words of encouragement to the people of enemy-occupied countries while others focused on relentless bombings of Nazi airfields, oil refineries and cities undermining the enemy's will to resist.

Knowing the wing's forefathers carried out similar missions 63 years ago reminded the aircrew that they're part of a long tradition of airpower.

"It's neat that we can continue on with the legacy," said 1st Lt. Mike Heddinger, a 746th EAS co-pilot from Wichita Falls, Texas. "It's also great that we'll be helping the guys on the ground by prepping the battlefield."

As the crew departed Kandahar for the Helmand Province, pilots reviewed their play book once more while loadmasters rehearsed the drop in their minds preparing the harnesses, oxygen tanks and boxes of leaflets.

"What we're going to do is line these boxes up as advertised and push them out the door at the right time," said Master Sgt. Larry Lambert, a 746th EAS senior loadmaster from Asbury, N.J.

The loadmasters in the back of the C-130 were responsible for the drop portion of the mission, communicating closely with the crew in the cockpit.

"We've been around the block a few times, so I can put my faith in the guys up front (of the C-130)," he said. "These leaflets can save innocent lives, so we're fired up to be a part of this."

As the aircraft approached the drop zone Sergeant Lambert established contact with his two loadmaster teammates using designated hand signals, letting them know when they were 20, 10, four, three, two and one minute away.

The crew was 5,000 feet above the target and everyone was fully prepared in safety gear. Within the hour the mission was complete. The crew went four for four over the Helmand Province, dropping the leaflets on time and on target. Within minutes it would be raining leaflets over the Helmand Province.

"It was a good day. We accomplished what we were asked to do," said Captain Cochran. "We completed the mission at hand and it's a great feeling."

This is what it's all about, said Maj. Pat O'Sullivan, the 746th EAS director of operations, from Sebring, Fla.

"We love this stuff. Missions like this drop with little to no notice," he said. "As soon as we received the word, they started moving, planning for and coordinating every possible scenario and variable. They were ready for every situation, guaranteeing a successful mission."

Photo - Tech. Sgt. Matt Rossi drops 30,000 leaflets July 22 over a drop zone in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan. The squadron successfully met their objective of dropping 120,000 leaflets over the Helmand Province, prepping the battlefield. Sergeant Rossi is a 746th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron instructor loadmaster. Photo by Capt. Teresa Sullivan.

Source: www.AF.mil.

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