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NEWS | Nov. 29, 2011

Afghanistan: Air Guard airdrops forklift at remote base

By Staff Sgt. David Salanitri U.S. Air Forces Central Command

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Airmen from the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, airdropped a 12,000-pound forklift to a remote forward operating base in the country, Nov. 23.

The C-130 Hercules aircrew, all from the North Carolina Air National Guard's 145th Airlift Wing, made the first airdrop of their deployment rotation a memorable one.

"We loaded a 12,000 pound forklift that was going to an Army forward operating base," said Air Force Maj. Jon Locklear, aircraft commander for the mission. "The reason we dropped the forklift is due to the fact of the prevalence of IEDs (improvised explosive device) in the area and on the roads."

Though the crew is just arriving here, they are eager to do the job they've been training on.

"Airdrops are something we train for day in, day out back home," Locklear said. "To be able to do it in combat really makes a difference to troops on the ground. Every pound that is brought in by air is one less truckload that has to come across the road and helps keep the troops out of danger."

Heavy equipment airdrops come with several changes that the loadmasters have to take into consideration. A typical container delivery system (CDS) bundle ranges from 500 to 2,000 pounds. The rarity of a heavy airdrop coupled with the fact that this is the crew's first combat airdrop together resulted in basic procedures being hammered in during the pre mission brief.

"This is our first airdrop in theater together. Lets follow the checklists," Locklear said. If something doesn't feel right, the aircrew is briefed that they can call off the drop and make another pass.

"Typically the airdrops we do here are CDS," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Steve Morris, a loadmaster on the aircrew. "There's not a whole lot of heavy equipment dropping done here in theater. It's a whole different setup. It's on a huge platform versus 16 CDS's."

The aircrew may be the face of the mission, but several different players had a role in the mission.

"To make an airdrop successful it doesn't just take the aircrew," Locklear said. "We have the riggers, the guys on the ground who make the request, our mission planners, the folks who load up the aircraft - we're just a small part of a large group of people who make this happen."

With all of the players that Locklear mentioned, many of them come from a different service, component or Guard unit.

"The fact that the North Carolina Air National Guard [members] have joined with (several different Guard units and components), everyone comes together," Locklear said. "Even though a majority of us don't know each other from the beginning, we work together as one squadron and it works out pretty well."

In a war where roadside bombs are one of the biggest threats to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, any time troops can limit their time on the road, it's preferred. Locklear is proud to be able to help reduce the time Soldiers have to spend on the roads, exposed to increased danger.

Without the ability to air drop cargo like the forklift, "more cargo would have to be transported by ground and put our Soldiers in more danger with possibly more causalities," he said. "Being able to airdrop makes a big difference (to the troops on the ground). It's something we really look forward to."