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    10 years of Enduring Freedom: An airlift hub in Uzbekistan played a crucial role early on

    10 years of Enduring Freedom: An airlift hub in Uzbekistan played a crucial role early on

    Photo By Scott Sturkol | C-130 Hercules aircrew members board their aircraft for an Operation Enduring Freedom...... read more read more

    SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. - When Operation Enduring Freedom began on Oct. 7, 2001, one airlift hub served as a key place to get the "beans and bullets" to troops early on -- Karshi-Khanabad Air Base, Uzbekistan.

    Karshi-Khanabad AB, also called "K2" by many who served there between 2001 to 2005, was home to the 416th Air Expeditionary Group and the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron comprised of mainly C-130 Hercules aircraft. C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, as well as Russian-built contract aircraft, were also part of the airlift effort from this base for OEF.

    The 416th AEG, a small outpost in Uzbekistan that had a mix of U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy service members, was part of the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing. The hub primarily helped get cargo and personnel to forward operating areas in Afghanistan through air-land and airdrop missions.

    Getting started

    Looking back through the official Air Mobility Command history from 2001, it shows how partnerships were built to have a new "cargo channel" going through Uzbekistan.

    "AMC created two new cargo channels [on Oct. 10, 2001,] in response to Enduring Freedom requirements," history states. "[This included] Dover Air Force Base, Del., to Karshi-Khanabad, Uzbekistan; and Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to Karshi-Khanabad."

    It was at that time where people from AMC's (618th) Tanker Airlift Control Center were doing what they still do today - making inter-theater airlift possible for the U.S. military.

    "Personnel from the TACC worked closely with numerous embassies to obtain clearances with numerous embassies to obtain clearances for these routes," the history states. "Many countries from the former Soviet bloc initially were hesitant about granting overflight rights. The Dover channel was cancelled...while simultaneously the channel from Ramstein was approved to carry personnel as well as cargo."

    Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld discussed the importance of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan for OEF during a press briefing at the Pentagon on Nov. 2, 2001.

    "[We] have a number of things that Uzbekistan has been assisting with," Rumsfeld stated in a Department of Defense news transcript. "It's always helpful, I think, to see that relationships are knitted together at the top so that all of the kinds of daily and weekly problems that come along are handled in a reasonably smooth way. And that is best done if there's a fairly clear understanding at the top as to what we have in mind and what they have in mind. And obviously, the relationships are evolving in both cases. They're relatively new because these are both of course former Soviet republics."

    Retired Gen. Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, further elaborated on cooperation at K2 in a Feb. 21, 2002, press briefing at the Pentagon.

    "And as you know, in a place like Uzbekistan, where we're getting great support for our operation down in Karshi-Khanabad, we had a relationship through NATO and Partnership for Peace with Uzbekistan," Myers said.

    The airlift ops, busy flightline

    Through the newly-established cargo channel at "K2," C-130s were busy getting troops to the austere areas throughout Afghanistan. By 2005, the last year operations were there, Airmen working on the flightline described how busy it was.

    "We have to be ready at a moment's notice, 24 hours a day," said then-Tech. Sgt. Emily Green, who was a C-17 crew chief and the NCO in charge of the transient alert flight deployed from McChord Air Force Base, Wash., (now Joint Base Lewis-McChord), in May 2005. She said the transient alert Airmen at K2 had to be "creative" in managing aircraft parking space.

    "We have to be flexible because we sometimes get planes added to our schedule, which means we have to get creative and fit the planes on the ramp," Green said. The creativity Green refers to is the possibility of having a C-17, C-130 Hercules, a C-21 or a Russian-made AN-12 parked on the transient ramp at the same time. The different sizes of the planes mean actual measurements were needed to ensure safe parking.

    "Our mix of people creates a team who understands many different types of airframes and the needs of each of them, thus making the creativity part of our job, when required, a little easier," Green said.

    Senior Master Sgt. John Rawls, who was deployed as the 416th AEG Air Terminal Operations Center superintendent to K2 in early 2005, described how much work he and his fellow 28-person crew of air transportation airmen were in moving cargo and passengers.

    "The ATOC moves beans, bullets and personnel to fight the global war on terror, as well as moving hundreds of thousands of pounds of humanitarian aid," said Rawls, an Air Force Reservist who was deployed from Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. "What we do is crucial. Supporting troops down range with vital cargo and food is no small task so our ATOC people do whatever it takes to get that done."

    Another aerial porter, then- Airman 1st Class Cristel Carlisle who was also from Maxwell AFB, said she was proud to be a part of the effort. "If we were not here to get the stuff on and off the
    planes, there would be problems. I think Karshi-Khanabad has played a crucial part in supporting the war to stop terrorism and I am proud to say that I am a part of this great endeavor."

    Rawls also described a typical month of movement at the base. In February 2005, he said aerial porters worked 138 out-bound C-130 and 36 C-17 missions along with missions for six other aircraft and welcomed more than 175 in-bound flights. In all, they processed more than 1,700 outbound and 1,800 inbound passengers, plus more than 200 transient passengers that month.

    From K2 with love

    One of the possibly least recognized efforts of the 416th AEG was its contribution to providing airdrops in the mountainous areas of Afghanistan from K2. The 774th EAS' C-130s were loaded up daily with Container Deployment System airdrop bundles -- 12 to each plane.

    The bundles were built and inspected on the C-130s prior to departure by U.S. Army parachute riggers and aerial delivery technicians. Most often they contained food, water, blankets or even ammunition.

    On one mission in February 2005, after weeks of heavy snows in the Afghan mountains, an Ohio Air National Guard C-130 aircrew from Mansfield, Ohio, delivered "hope" in the form of an airdrop to the mountain village of Shin Kay, Afghanistan. They airdropped more than 13,000 pounds of supplies in a narrow mountain pass.

    "Our basic mission was to airdrop vital supplies to the Afghan people located in isolated areas as well as our troops at forward firebases," said Senior Master Sgt. David Leightenberger, a loadmaster on the mission.

    Lt. Col. Brian Lake, the February mission's aircraft commander, added, "We arrived over the drop zone within 30 seconds of planned drop time-exactly on target. The soldiers [on the ground] received all of their supplies exactly where they wanted them."

    The Shin Kay airdrop mission was just one of hundreds completed by mobility airmen at K2 through the opening years of OEF. It's a mission that continues over Afghanistan to this day.

    Legacy continues

    Although the 416th Air Expeditionary Group stopped operations in Uzbekistan in mid-2005, many elements of its former mission are in use at other locations. Most notably is the 774th EAS which now operates from Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.

    Still configured much like it was in Uzbekistan, the 774th has C-130s of various models still flying airdrop and air-land missions for tactical airlift around Afghanistan. As a matter of fact, the 774th has been a part of record airdrop campaigns in recent years.

    In 2010, mobility airmen airdropped a record 60.4 million-plus pounds of cargo in Afghanistan, according to U.S. Air Forces Central statistics compiled at the Combined Air Operations Center in Southwest Asia. In 2011, as of Aug. 31, mobility Airmen - including those with the 774th EAS -- have airdropped more than 47.4 million pounds of cargo in Afghanistan and are on pace to set a new record of 90 million pounds by the end of the year.

    As an additional note, the 416th Air Expeditionary Group and associated units earned the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with the Valor device in 2003 and 2005.

    (Note: This is the first in a series of three stories recognizing the 10th anniversary of Operation Enduring Freedom on Oct. 7, 2011.)



    Date Taken: 10.11.2011
    Date Posted: 10.11.2011 13:18
    Story ID: 78328

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