From 52nd Expeditionary Airlift Squadron
CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti — Deploying Airmen and aircraft overseas in support of contingency operations is not a new concept for the Air Force Reserve Command’s 302nd Airlift Wing. However, this past fall 302nd AW Airmen and C-130s were tasked with an additional mission set with deployments in support of U.S. AFRICOM as the 52nd Expeditionary Airlift Squadron stood up operations at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti on Oct 1.
The 52nd EAS, which has been supported by Airmen from the 302nd AW’s 731st Airlift Squadron and its active duty associate unit, the 52nd Airlift Squadron and 302nd AW C-130s is charged with providing tactical airlift as part of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. CJTF-HOA’s operations build partnerships and supports development initiatives in an effort to promote regional security and prevent violent extremist activity.
“The 302nd AW was instrumental in pioneering airlift operations in AFRICOM,” said Col. Kurt Jones, commander of the 302nd Operations Group. “This [52nd EAS] was the first EAS to be stood up in support of AFRICOM,” he added.
The 52nd EAS is strategically located at Camp Lemonnier to support CJTF-HOA’s ability to work with partner nations, coalition forces, and interagency and intergovernmental organizations to achieve a unified effort in the region. According to Capt. Christopher Gurrola, a 52nd EAS C-130 pilot, within hours of arriving to Camp Lemonnier, the Colorado Airmen were planning and executing missions into austere locations. Gurrola said the airlift missions in Africa provided unique flight environments and new sights, to include wild herds of giraffe, camels, and baboons.
“Within the first month we had planned and conducted some of the most difficult night missions to dirt landing strips, performing combat offloads, and had flawlessly accomplished a complete engine change under the roasting African sun,” he said.
“The unit arrived at Djibouti to find not much more waiting for us than a shipping container building, a couple of ‘Gator’ vehicles, and a place to lay their heads. That proved to be all we would need,” said Gurrola.
According to Lt. Col. Jason Terry, the 52nd EAS is a critical part of the crisis response in support of U.S. military, diplomatic, and civilian personnel throughout East Africa.
“I could not be more proud of the men and women of the 52nd EAS. They have done everything asked in support of partner nation military operations against violent extremist organizations, while strengthening our East African partner nation militaries,” he said. “The actions of the 52 EAS, and CJTF-HOA, protect and defend the national security interests of the United States in East Africa.”
52nd EAS Airmen also volunteered their time at a local orphanage in order to bond with the Djiboutian people on a personal level. According to Terry, the 52nd EAS Airmen are most proud of the Total Force approach to this deployment as it is a fifty-fifty mix of Air Force Reserve and Active Duty 302nd Airlift Wing Airmen. Discussing the addition of the AFRICOM mission set to the wing’s existing airlift and Modular Airborne Fire Fighting mission sets, Jones said, “This has been an opportunity for the wing to show flexibility in leadership of TFI (Total Force Integration) and increase the mission sets we can accomplish.”