September 13, 2015 (by Maj. Tony Wickman) - Airmen and C-130J Super Hercules aircraft from Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, completed a successful deployment in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and NATO’s Resolute Support mission, and now begin their journey home to the Natural State.
USAF C-130J #07-4637 assigned to the 774th EAS takes off from Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan on September 12, 2015. The aircraft and the rest of the squadron were in the process of redeploying back to Little Rock AFB after successfully completing their deployment. [USAF photo by TSgt. Joseph Swafford]
During their rotation as the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, the Little Rock team completed 1,850 combat sorties and moved 14,500 passengers and 17 million pounds of cargo. No small feat considering the size and scope of the Combined Joint Operating Area-Afghanistan and the intra-theater lift provided by the squadron throughout the Air Forces Central Command area of operations.
“I’m incredibly proud of this team. We're a very young squadron, and just made the transition to the C-130J this past year,” said Lt. Col. Eric Westby, outgoing 774th EAS commander. “So, taking on a combat deployment was a monumental challenge that our team passed with flying colors.”
While his Airmen had an advantage in preparing for their deployment because a sister squadron from Little Rock proceeded them, Westby said they had to overcome training limitations to ensure a successful rotation.
“They gave us a very good idea of what Afghanistan-specific challenges awaited us, and we focused a lot of our training on that…specifically high altitude, high temperature operations, oversize cargo loading and unloading and R-11 fuel truck loading and unloading,” said Westby. “Back home, we still don't have our full allotment of aircraft—they're still coming off the production line—so we were limited in available training lines. I'm very proud of this squadron in how they got all their training events done, were mission ready and came out here and delivered when it counted.”
While the lack of airplanes at home station hampered the development of young pilots and aircrew members, the colonel said this deployment exponentially improved his Airmen’s skill and general knowledge of how to operate the C-130J, as well as their experience in dealing with joint partners, foreign controllers and rugged terrain. A deployment highlight was the squadron’s support to Combined Joint Special Operations Air Command.
“Our support to CJSOAC operations was our big achievement this tour. We expanded the roles and capabilities of the C-130J in support of special operations, and benchmarked a new capability for AFCENT that hopefully will become a standard throughout the AMC (Air Mobility Command) C-130J enterprise,” said Westby.
Westby said that as the only airlift squadron in the CJOA-A, the 774th EAS is an essential part of the mission here.
“Bottom line, and I believe all our customers from Resolute Support, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, 9th Air Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan, CJSOAC and the air mobility division would agree with me, if we stop, then operations in Afghanistan stop,” said Westby. “This squadron is absolutely essential to U.S. and Coalition operations in this theater, and nobody can do what we can. We're very proud of that fact and every day we step to our aircraft with that mindset.”
Westby said the support of families and friends back home made this a successful deployment, and that everyone should be proud of their Airmen for their contributions here in Afghanistan.
“I would like the families back home to know their loved ones did their jobs, and did them very, very well. A combat deployment is the Super Bowl for an airlift squadron, and our team came out here and won,” said Westby. “All the families should be incredibly proud, I know I am.
“The toughest job in a deployment belongs to the loved ones who are left behind. We have a strong squadron spouses group with incredible leaders among our Key Spouses…they were amazing,” said Westby. “We've felt their support all the way over here, and it was easier for our Airmen to do their jobs because their families were taken care of at home. I'm proud of how our squadron family all pulled together and supported each other during this deployment. It's been a huge success both at home and here.”
The Little Rock team will be replaced by Airmen and aircraft from Dyess AFB, Texas.