C-130 Hercules crew delivers critical supplies

SOUTHWEST ASIA --  A C-130 Hercules crew assigned to the 738th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron provided critical support to an Army operating location in Afghanistan on July 6 by airdropping essential supplies before a potential enemy attack.

Aircraft commander Capt. Travis Sjostedt and his crew just completed their last sortie during their 30-day forward deployment to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. But as the crew was preparing the aircraft to return to its main operating base, leaders at Bagram received a message from the theater's combined air operations center that a forward operating base in Afghanistan was short of critical supplies.

According to CAOC officials, commanders at the forward operating base were concerned that Taliban forces were planning an imminent attack on their location. In order to defend their base, the forward commander requested that emergency supplies be delivered as quickly as possible.

The only option for CAOC controllers to get supplies to the base was by air drop. CAOC controllers knew Captain Sjostedt's crew was still at Bagram, so they called the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing's leadership to ask if the crew was able to support an emergency airdrop mission with only a limited amount of time left in its duty day.

"The navigator, 1st Lt. Justin Newton, went out to talk to our loadmasters to see if they could make it happen, and without delay they said yes" said Captain Sjostedt.

While personnel at Bagram were palletizing and rigging parachutes to more than eight tons of supplies destined for the forward base, Captain Sjostedt's flight engineer and two loadmasters scrambled to configure the C-130 to upload and deploy the supplies while the pilots and navigator were planning the mission, flight routes and calculating the drop time. A process that normally takes two to three hours was compressed to less than one hour.

"Getting the aircraft ready in such a short time was definitely a challenge," said flight engineer Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Ryal. "Our crew really ramped it up -- perfectly."

Lieutenant Newton spent most of his pre-mission planning coordinating with the local Bagram tactics shop.

"We had to coordinate a lot of things with the Army. Our approach to the drop zone, location of the drop zone, times for the drop," he said. "We needed to make sure we were all on the same sheet. Any disconnects and we'd be exposing Soldiers to the enemy longer than necessary."

With the cargo on board, the crew took off for its designated drop zone. Even while the crew was en route to the drop zone, it was making last-minute adjustments to the approach for the drop zone and preparing the cargo for air drop. In less than four hours from initial notification, with only one chance to make a pass at the drop zone, the crew dropped its 12 bundles of cargo within eight seconds of the scheduled time and within a few hundred feet of the target zone.

What made this mission more extraordinary, according to Lt. Col. William Summers, 738th EAS commander, was that the crew had little combat airdrop experience.

"We are sending out young crews every day to do complex missions with great success," Colonel Summers said. "It validates the training these crews go through back home."

When asked about their reaction to their impromptu mission, Capt. Sjostedt said "it is the most rewarding experience I've had as an aircrew member … being part of such an outstanding team effort and realizing that our success had immediate and vital impact to our guys on the ground. "

The crew's efforts did not go unnoticed at the CAOC. Brig. Gen. Thomas M. Gisler Jr., director of mobility forces, praised the crew's performance.

"There are some Americans on the ground today still in the fight because of what they accomplished," he said.

The 738th EAS crew is preparing to rotate back to the 517th Airlift Squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.