AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar - -- Since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, equipment, supplies, troops and cargo have been transported via C-17 Globemaster III,s and since the beginning the Airmen from the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron have been filling the role of keeping the mission going.
The 79 pilots and loadmasters assigned to the 816th, who have been here for two weeks, have already flown more than 130 sorties, moving more than 4 million pounds of cargo and more than 1,700 passengers to different countries throughout the U.S. Air Forces Central Command's area of responsibility.
If the tempo remains as high as it has for the past two weeks, the airmen are on pace to set new sortie records for the 816th EAS.
"The 816th EAS has a very rewarding mission with direct impact to the warfront," said Capt. Philip Bush, an 816th EAS pilot who hails from Lockhart, Texas. "We fly missions everyday transporting troops and supplies from all over Southwest Asia.
"Although our aircraft doesn't carry any weapons or bombs, we are responsible for ensuring the people who do, have the right equipment on hand. Some equipment can only be moved through airlift and it's the fastest way to have the equipment on the ground in the hands of the warfighter."
Currently a main priority for the 816th EAS is to provide airlift capabilities to the retrograde in Afghanistan.
"We are taking off today to pick up nearly 80,000 pounds of rolling stock, vehicles and MRAPS (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles) from Kandahar, Afghanistan," Bush said. "Being part of the retrograde is a great experience and rewarding to know we are making a difference. It's even better when we transport airmen, soldiers, Marines and sailors who have been deployed for a long time."
Besides the normal strategic airlift capabilities of moving people and equipment in a timely manner, the 816th EAS also provides the Air Force with aeromedical evacuations, human remains transfers, air drop of pallets and cargo and tactical landing and takeoff, Bush said.
"Being part of an aeromedical evacuation mission is the most rewarding and humbling experience I have ever had as a pilot," Bush said. "Aeromedical evacuation missions are usually not planned and we have to drop whatever we are doing and transport the injured to a medical facility as soon as possible. The reward of transporting injured service members and getting them the care they need is beyond words."
Senior Airman Jose Guevara, an 816th EAS loadmaster from Uvalde, Texas said, the C-17 is the Air Force's second largest cargo aircraft and can carry more than of 170,000 pounds of cargo or 18 pallets and 54 passengers in one flight.
"As a loadmaster, it is my job to ensure the cargo does not shift during flight and passengers are accommodated," Guevara said. "We have an incredibly successful mission here at Al Udeid and it is a privilege to get to fly all over the world and meet new people. It is also great to know my role transporting equipment and passengers plays an important part of getting the mission accomplished."
The airmen currently assigned to the 816th EAS are deployed from the 16th Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., and are rotated with three other airlift squadrons from Charleston every two months. Being deployed with airmen from the same unit is a bonus and a moral boost, Bush said.
The 816th EAS commander, Lt. Col. Stewart Newton who hails from Rock Hill, S.C., had nothing but positive feedback about the Airmen who fly C-17s.
"These airmen out here are doing an incredible job ensuring 24/7 expeditionary airlift operations," Newton said. "They are highly adaptive and effective in safely accomplishing an array of combat operations."