January 28, 2014 (by Ann Skarban) - An Air Force Reserve Command C-130 and approximately 30 Airmen returned Jan. 15 to Peterson AFB, Colorado after providing airlift support as part of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa mission.
Soldiers of the East Africa Response Force load onto USAF C-130H # 94-7320 at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, to support an ordered departure in Juba, South Sudan December 18, 2013. At the request of the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Defense directed C-130 aircraft from the 731st Airlift Squadron, to move personnel from Juba, the capital of South Sudan, to Nairobi, Kenya. [USAF photo by Tech. Sgt. Micah Theurich]
The Colorado Airmen, charged with providing tactical airlift were deployed as the 52nd Expeditionary Airlift Squadron and stood up operations at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti on Oct. 1. According to Col. Kurt Jones, 302nd Operations Group commander, the 52nd EAS was the first EAS to stand up in support of U.S. Africa Command missions.
Within the first month of the Airmen's arrival to Africa, they were planning and conducting challenging missions to include night missions, dirt strip landings and combat offloads.
"We had three layers of work -- right away, routine and training," said Lt. Col. Joey Dible, 52nd EAS commander and C-130 master navigator, referring to airlift. She further explained the "right away" was referring to the short taskings or emergency airlift. The "routine" airlift was that which many locations needed for logistical support and finally, the training airlift was needed by their mission partners to gain proficiency for shared missions. "We were very busy," she stated upon her return to Peterson AFB .
Suddenly, on Dec. 18 the work became "right away" when the airlift squadron received the tasking to support the ordered departure of U.S. military, diplomatic and civilian personnel from Juba, South Sudan as a result of a growing security concerns. At the request of the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Defense directed the 52nd EAS C-130 to move personnel from Juba, the capital of South Sudan to Nairobi, Kenya.
For Capt. Josh Miller, C-130 aircraft commander assigned to the 52nd Airlift Squadron, this was his first time leading his aircrew on a humanitarian mission involving the evacuation of personnel. "We were in the right place and at the right time," said Miller.
Dible explained a high level of contingency planning was required to be ready for anything. "This included determining how many people we could evacuate, how to do so safely, quickly and efficiently," she said.
"We had to be flexible in planning and in the execution of the mission," said 52nd EAS operations superintendent and Air Force Reserve C-130 loadmaster, Senior Master Sgt. Joe Rorick, describing the passenger configuration in the C-130. "We had completely full loads and airlifted men, women, children," he said. For Rorick, this was one of his most memorable missions and his first humanitarian evacuation airlift in his 18-year Air Force career.
Describing those awaiting evacuation airlift Dible said, "It was an amazing to see everyone lined up with armloads of clothes - families, children."
"This is the whole reason this mission was stood up," added 52nd AS commander, Lt. Col. Jason Terry. Lt. Col Terry was the first 52nd AS member on the ground in Djibouti back in September and the first Commander of the 52nd EAS. His team of 29 reserve and Active Duty 302nd Airmen stood up the squadron with only the equipment they could bring with them in a single C-130. They established the squadron in an old shipping container and flew their first mission within four days.
Earlier in December the Africa-based 52nd EAS was called upon to provide airlift support for the state funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. According to Dible, the 52nd EAS provided short-notice airlift supporting the President of the United States' attendance of Mandela's state funeral services.
"Everything we do is significant. In Africa we saw the direct impact we had," said Dible.
The C-130 active associate structure [an active duty flying squadron has been part of the 302nd AW since October 2009] within the Air Force Reserve Command's 302nd Airlift Wing, allowed the CJTF-HOA deployment to be filled by an equal blend of Active Duty and reservists from both 302nd AW flying squadrons as well as maintenance and support personnel.
"We worked so well together. Operations, maintenance and aircrew flight equipment melded well as a team. We tossed out Active Duty and reserve [affiliations] and just did the mission," said Rorick.
"It was seamless," added Dible describing the Active Duty and Reserve mix.
With their mid-January departure from Africa, the CJTF-HOA airlift support transferred to aircrew and support personnel from Dyess AFB, Texas. Colorado's aircrews and support personnel from the 302nd AW may be tasked again for the CJTF-HOA mission. The wing awaits possible, future orders in support of this mission.