UNDISCLOSED LOCATION - The 746th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron has a history of providing airlift for passengers and cargo since the 1940s and currently provides tactical airlift capabilities via C-130J Super Hercules in Southwest Asia.
Although the 746th EAS will continue to be a part of Operation Enduring Freedom, the Airmen currently filling the roles of pilots, loadmasters and mission planners, deployed from Kessler Air Force Base, share their last deployment as a unit.
In November, during their deployment to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, their home units, the 815th and 345th Airlift Squadrons, announced they are deactivating this fiscal year.
“The 815th Airlift Squadron, which is a reserve unit, and their active duty counterpart the 345th, have been the subject of force restructuring for quite some time now,” said Lt. Col. Brian Freeman, 746th EAS commander who hails from Perkinston, Miss. and is deployed from Keesler AFB. “We have been living under a cloud of uncertainty for a number of years. For many people, the decision to shut down the units gave a sense of closure.”
The Airmen at the 746th EAS continue to do the mission by providing intra-theater tactical airlift, aeromedical evacuation support and flying an average of 11 missions a week. There are four C-130s assigned to the 746th EAS and one of the planes remains on standby 24/7.
The airmen in the unit remain enthusiastic about being part of something bigger than them, Freeman said.
“I am completely humbled and blessed by the men and women that I have deployed with over here,” Freeman said. “The unit remains focused, resilient and has been brought closer together. Although some members remain concerned, they are aware we are doing everything we can to get Airmen placed in other units.”
Members of the 746th EAS are not the only deployed members affected by the shutdown of their home units. Airmen from the 379th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron who are deployed from Kessler will also be affected.
Master Sgt. Ben Smith, 746th Aircraft Maintenance Unit flight chief who hails from Gulfport, Miss., said, “The 403rd Maintenance Group which supports the C-130 units that are shutting down will feel the effect of the manning at Kessler. Keesler leadership has been working hard to be as transparent as possible and has kept us up to date with new information.”
Most units under the same circumstances might not handle the situation as collectively as the Airmen at the 379th AEW, Freeman said.
“I am thankful to be part of a team which puts the mission first,” Freeman said. “The Airmen here, both in Maintenance and Ops, are putting in hard work and are performing at a 100 percent effectiveness rate. We will do everything we can to take care of one another during this deployment and in the future.”