AL UDEID AIR BASE, QATAR
AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar -- When a military aircraft is unable to fly due to a maintenance issue and is in a remote location, what is the fastest way to get an aircraft part to that location to bring the plane back into the fight?
The answer: A C-21, which is a light and compact twin-engine aircraft used for cargo and passenger airlift.
The aircrews of the 379th Expeditionary Operations Group C-21 detachment from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, are responsible for providing the U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility high priority passengers including distinguished visitors and high priority cargo transportation in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
"C-21s are the fastest airlift aircraft and I consider it the Porsche of the fleet," said, Maj. Amy Eichelberger, 379th EOG/C21 director of operations who is deployed from Joint Base Andrews, Md. and a Philipsburg, Penn., native. "We have a high visibility mission and we pride ourselves in providing top notch service to whoever our passenger may be."
The six pilots who operate on two C-21s also provide the AOR with aeromedical evacuation support.
"When there is a need to evacuate a small number of ambulatory patients, the Air Force doesn't need to send a larger aircraft," Eichelberger said. "We provide aeromedical evacuation support and can transport a patient to a higher level of care faster than anyone else. The aircrew is made up of only two pilots and we accommodate our passengers as best as we can."
According to 1st Lt. Kenneth Kaczmarek, a C-21 pilot who is deployed from Scott Air Force Base, Ill. and a Tampa, Fla., native, the mission of the C-21 comes with many rewards.
"The greatest part of being a C-21 pilot is getting to travel to many countries throughout the world," Kaczmarek said. "Most pilots of other airframes take off from here and land here. We are lucky we get a chance to explore other cultures and meet people from all walks of life."
Although traveling is a great reward of being a C-21 pilot, Kaczmarek said it is also one of the greatest challenges.
"When traveling to remote places around the world, we are challenged with language barriers," he said. "We have to be creative when trying to communicate with airport authorities when we land and have to refuel our plane and no one there speaks English."
Flying a C-21 to remote locations can be the only option when landing on small runways, said Eichelberger.
"The footprint and coordination to land a larger aircraft such as a C-17 can be too much to handle for a small airport in a remote location," Eichelberger said. "It is also cheaper to fly a C-21 than it is to fly a larger aircraft."
Although there are only six C-21 pilots who support the entire AOR, the closeness of the pilots makes the high ops tempo a successful mission, Eichelberger said.
"We are a small and tightly knit group who places the mission first under every circumstance," Eichelberger added. "C-21 pilots are the crème de la crème and I am impressed by the motivation and dedication of the crew we have here. We would also not be able to do our job without the hard work of the support Airmen and civilians who keep us in the air. I am honored to be part of this team."
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