November 6, 2017 (by Maj. Marnee A.C. Losurdo) - In Greek mythology, a phoenix is a bird that obtains new life by rising from the ashes. Many members of the 815th Airlift Squadron might be able to relate to this tale of renewal or resurrection, except their symbol isn’t a legendary bird, but a hard-working and practical pack mule—a Flying Jenny.
An 815th AS C-130J Super Hercules aircrew conducts a training flight over Keesler AFB, November 3, 2017. The AFRC Airmen practiced airdrops, flew with night vision goggles and performed other tasks to prepare for missions in a deployed location. [USAF photo by SSgt. Shelton Sherrill]
In 2013, times were uncertain for the 815th AS, a tactical airlift unit in the Air Force Reserve's 403rd Wing that transports supplies, equipment and personnel in a theater of operation. As part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, the Air Force announced plans to transfer 10 of the 403rd Wing's C-130J Super Hercules aircraft. However, two years later the Secretary of the Air Force reversed that recommendation, beginning the programming and budgeting work to restore personnel and mission capability at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi.
On Nov. 3, 2017, the Flying Jennies completed this quest by reaching full operational capability, meaning they are ready to deploy and provide combat-ready Airmen to conduct the combat airlift mission, said Lt. Col. Stuart Rubio, 815th AS commander.
"There have been a lot of challenges, and an enormous amount of work has been done by the squadron to get to this point," said Rubio, who was assigned to the 403rd Wing in January 2016 to assist with rebuilding the unit, to include recruiting new personnel and establishing their retraining program.
Rubio relates the experience of rebuilding the squadron to a football team. He said the last year and a half has been similar to being in a summer training camp without that game to look forward to; however, the 815th AS team is now ready, not for a game, but for a combat airlift mission.
"The reason we train is so we can do the mission," said Rubio.
The squadron does this using the C-130J, the newest of the C-130 fleet, said Staff Sgt. Tony DiStefano, 815th AS loadmaster.
"This is the cargo specific version of the aircraft," he said. "It can carry quite a few tons of cargo. We can load Humvees and smaller vehicles into the back, and we can bring them anywhere around the world."
The C-130J can land on a dirt or gravel airstrip only 3,000 feet long; however, if there isn't a safe place to land, cargo can be airdropped to the location, said Rubio.
The squadron trains weekly for this mission, and in honor of the squadron reaching FOC status they flew a three-ship formation. During the low-level tactical flight, they practiced airdrops, flew with night vision goggles and performed other tasks to prepare for missions in a deployed location, said Rubio.
"It's a proud moment for us," said DiStefano. "We're fully operational again. We have full mission capabilities, and it's a great place to be."