By Staff Sgt. Andrew Park
94th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
DOBBINS AIR RESERVE BASE, Ga. — Train as you fight and fight as you train. So goes the old adage about putting in the work required in practice to perform effectively under pressure. The same is true for Dobbins as it must prepare its C-130s to perform in a variety of locations as required by the mission.
Last Friday, two C-130s from the 94th Airlift Wing participated in high-altitude airdrops alongside two C-130s from the 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.; and one C-130 from the 910th Airlift Wing, Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio as part of a training exercise above the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.
The training exercise began early July, 28, 2017 with a small breakout session with 302nd pilot instructors and a concept brief. Later that morning, a five-ship C-130 formation took off and made its way through winding valleys dotted with evergreen trees and over craggy mountain peaks to the drop zone, situated 9,800 feet above sea level. At the dropzone, each plane dropped one training bundle. Afterward, the aircraft landed briefly at a Colorado regional airport before returning to Peterson.
Making up the southern portion of the mountain range, the Colorado Rockies reach heights greater than 14,000 feet. Although the distance between the airplane and the dropzone is comparable to that of normal airdrops here, the mountainous terrain creates some unique challenges.
“The difference flying in the mountains at that altitude is that it was above 10,000 feet, which requires us to fly under oxygen,” said Maj. Jeremy Corner, 700th Airlift Squadron flight commander.
Corner explained how normal operations become much more labor intensive while the plane is depressurized and the crew operates on oxygen. The process itself also takes longer than airdrops performed under normal circumstances.
“Typically around here, we don’t have to be on oxygen for any of our airdrops,” said Staff Sgt. DJ Metroka, 700th AS instructor loadmaster. “The only time we actually do it is for training purposes, so actually having to be on oxygen versus just training with oxygen is huge for us in trying to get everything accomplished.”
The exercise also provided the opportunity for several Air Force Reserve C-130 units to fly together while learning from each other and gaining confidence flying along the rocky terrain.
“We’re excited,” said Maj. Jesse Newberry, 302nd AW mission commander during the initial briefing. Newberry is responsible for the large-scale coordination and overall mission planning. “I know some of the units have played in the mountains before. Basically, we want to increase your confidence in the mountains. We want you to get a chance to see some big rocks you’re not used to seeing, have some fun, work through some checklists in the mountains, maybe play on oxygen in a way you haven’t done before and then really work together as a Reserve C-130 unit.”
“There are a lot of opportunities for talking among yourselves and among each other,” said Lt. Col. Richard Pantusa, 302nd Operations Group commander, at the briefing. “We don’t know what we take for granted as a standard. We don’t know what our culture is excluding that you guys might include and vice versa. So flying together, unless we do this intentionally, we’re going to show up somewhere and have to do this for real and there’s going to be a whole bunch of question marks and it’s going to take a lot of work to work through all those questions. Now’s the time to train.”
In addition to working with others, many of the Dobbins aircrew members had the chance to work with each other to review a few fundamentals of airdrop procedures, leading to a focus on safer operations.
“When you’re flying at high altitudes, especially low-level flying through the mountains, we run the possibility of equipment shifting around in the back,” said Metroka. “We need to take the extra precaution to make sure nobody’s going to get hurt. There’s a lot more planning involved, but it also gets our guys forward thinking so if we have to do this in combat, we’re prepared.”
Training in high altitudes might seem a bit strange for a wing that flies out of Georgia, but there are real implications for the 94th AW’s support of the larger mission, especially in combat-related missions in mountainous countries like Afghanistan where aircraft are regularly used to deliver personnel and supplies to austere locations.
“Where it provides benefit for the Air Force is having crews from the southeast who may be asked to airdrop something above 3,000 feet in the Afghanistan mountains,” Corner explained. “You don’t want that to be the first time you see it.”
It’s through training exercises such as this that pilots and aircrew are provided valuable feedback so they’ll be ready for real-world scenarios where precision in executing the mission is the difference between troops on the frontlines getting vital materials or not.
“I’m really glad that you guys are all here,” said Pantusa, concluding the brief. “This is awesome. This is how we should be training.”