Van E. Harl
AIR-LIFT WINS THE HUMANITARIAN WAR
There once was an Air Force four star general who stated “if you’re not a fighter pilot you aren’t sh….” This was also the same general who almost broke the Air Force single handedly.
I took a flight on a C-17 transport aircraft out of Altus AFB (Air Force Base), Oklahoma that was going to Kessler AFB, in Biloxi, Mississippi. The C-17 was headed into the middle of the destruction that hurricane Katrina had delivered onto the southern half of that state. I had lived in Mississippi and knew what it was suppose to look like. As we flew over that victimized state there was no doubt it had changed greatly for the worst. I can tell you from first hand knowledge it was not fighter aircraft that was saving the day, it was big cargo hauling planes and those wonderful “Handcart boys (and girls)” who fly the rescue helicopters.
Moving cargo and troops by air is not a cheap form of transport, but when it has to be there “now” that is just what my big Air Force does so well. We loaded some troops and cargo at Altus AFB and headed to Luke AFB in, Phoenix, Arizona. We picked up more troops, donated relief supplies, and a much needed forklift at Luke AFB, then turned the plane east to Kessler AFB.
The aircrew of the C-17 made it all look very simple, even though we were gone from Altus AFB for a long 12 hours. One crew member advised me that 20-plus hour missions were the norm during the second gulf war. So I guess 12 hours is no big deal. As you watch all the blaming going on in the press, about who is at fault in the aftermath of Katrina, what becomes clear to me is it is untrained civilians who do the most finger pointing.
Just because you were elected or appointed to a job does not mean you can handle that job when the stress factor kicks in. This is where the military excels. Our armed services train their people to do the job extremely well during peace time operations, so when conflict comes along they go right ahead and perform their tasks as if it is just another day on the farm.
A perfect example was the interaction between the C-17 aircrew and the ground support personnel who met our flight each time we touched down on a new air base runway. These two groups of Airmen had never seen each other prior to the landing of the C-17, but literally seconds after the loading ramp in the rear of the plane hits the ground, these two groups gelled into an amazing performance. The cargo that had to come off the plane was released from the tie-down devices and rolled out the back in a matter of minutes. The off loading troops were positioned with gear in hand and moved down the ramp in a safe but rapid manner. People who had never met before were working side-by-side as if they did this everyday. Hey! They do, do this everyday.
There has been a lot made out in the press about, the over 400 New Orleans police officers who have failed to show up to work in that flooded city. Now they raised their right hand and swore an oath to protect and serve and then they ran away. You don’t get to just walk off the job in the military. When we got to Kessler AFB it was hot and humid and unloading that aircraft full of cargo and troops was not fun, but it had to get done. Most of the young troops who met us on the flight line at Kessler were not even from that base. They had been sent in from air bases all over the country to support the operation in Biloxi.
Altus AFB has sent in airmen to form a Support Group to assist and provide needed infrastructure for the large number of Federal, State and local support agencies that have set up operations on Kessler. Colonel Linda Medler from Altus AFB who just recently got back from six months in Afghanistan was deployed to Kessler AFB to be the Air Expeditionary Group commander of this contingency operation. Altus AFB may be a training base that brings new airmen into the “force” but it can and does almost every day support the “real-world” air force on the front lines… whether the front lines are in Baghdad or Biloxi.
Aim high, for sure above the flood line.
©Copyright September 12, 2005 by Van E. Harl